One of the five children Columbus police found alone in a Victory Drive motel room was only four months old. The others were ages 1, 3, 4 and 5.
They were naked and covered in feces, officers said, and the room’s bedclothes were soiled with urine and feces, too. The children had no food.
The investigators a motel manager had called to the Columbus Inn at 3170 Victory Drive went to a nearby store to buy the kids diapers and blankets. The officers were still at the motel when a pickup truck pulled up, and Lythea Sharay Smith got out, having caught a ride from somewhere on Cusseta Road.
The mother, then 24, told police she and the children had been staying at the motel for about two weeks, and she had asked a friend to watch the kids while she was gone.
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But no adult was there when a housekeeper heard a baby crying in Room 122 and informed the manager. Detectives with the police department’s special victims unit arrested Smith on five counts of second-degree child cruelty. The range of punishment on each count was one to 10 years in prison.
Police were called to the motel at 12:20 p.m. on Jan. 20, 2016. During a preliminary hearing in Columbus Recorder’s Court two days later, a judge ordered Smith held on $12,500 bond.
On Nov. 16 she was back in court again, this time to plead guilty to the charges against her.
She told Superior Court Judge Ron Mullins that she was sorry for what had happened, and that she had been compelled to flee her home with the children to escape an abusive relationship.
Prosecutor George Lipscomb described the conditions in which police found the kids, then told Mullins he had a photograph of the motel room. The judge asked to see it.
His face showed his distaste, as he handed the photo back.
He accepted Smith’s apology, and he accepted the plea deal Lipscomb had worked out with defense attorney Julianne Lynn Skipper, to sentence Smith to three years in jail and 10 years on probation, with credit for time she already has served.
But the judge could not accept what he saw in the picture, nor Smith’s excuse for it: “No child, regardless of your circumstance, should have to put up with what I saw in that picture,” he said.
Smith now is 27 years old. Skipper said she initially spent seven months in jail before she got out on bond, and then was picked up on a warrant and incarcerated again, for three more months. Skipper was unsure why.
Given credit for the time she has been in jail, Smith was released Friday. She is to work with the Georgia Division of Family Services to develop her parenting skills before she can regain custody of her children, attorneys said.