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News / Nation & World

Mother of 6-year-old boy who shot his teacher in Virginia could be jailed for failing drug tests

By Associated Press
Published: September 21, 2023, 8:17am

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — The mother of a 6-year-old who shot his teacher in Virginia could be jailed Thursday for failing drug tests while awaiting sentencing on federal weapons charges that she used marijuana while possessing a firearm.

A bond revocation hearing is set in federal court in Newport News for Deja Taylor. Her son used her gun to shoot Abby Zwerner in her classroom in January. The first-grade teacher was seriously wounded and has endured multiple surgeries.

Taylor pleaded guilty in June to using marijuana while possessing a firearm. Authorities say she also lied about her drug use on a federal background check form when she bought the gun that her son brought to school.

A judge had set an October sentencing date and released Taylor on bond under the conditions that she submit to drug tests and receive addiction treatment. But Taylor has twice tested positive for marijuana and once for cocaine, federal prosecutors wrote in a filing with the court this month. She also missed two drug tests and two drug treatment sessions, they said.

“These violations are serious and call into question the defendant’s danger to the community, respect for the law and this Court’s Orders,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lisa McKeel and Peter Osyf wrote.

James Ellenson, an attorney for Taylor, said his client doesn’t dispute the prosecutors’ allegations. But he argued against incarceration in a court filing, stating that Taylor has made “substantial positive developments.”

She’s taken four more drugs tests since Aug. 25, Ellenson said. And while they’ve been positive for marijuana, “the levels are decreasing and show that Ms. Taylor is abstaining from this drug,” Ellenson wrote.

He added that the one positive result for cocaine “was an aberration and likely caused from her use of marijuana unknowingly laced with cocaine.”

“Ms. Taylor freely admits that she has had and still faces a serious substance abuse challenge,” Ellenson wrote. “Her addiction is clearly a disease — nonetheless, revocation and incarceration are not the cures. … A jail cell will only exacerbate the deep issues that she is facing.”

Taylor’s sentencing is set for Oct. 18. As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to ask the judge for a sentence of 18 months to 24 months in prison.

Marijuana is legal in many U.S. states, including Virginia. But it’s still a controlled substance under U.S. law, which generally prohibits gun possession by someone who has been convicted of a felony, been committed to a mental institution or illegally uses controlled substances, among other things.

Authorities had found marijuana at homes where Taylor was staying during searches that followed the shooting at Richneck Elementary School.

Meanwhile, Taylor still faces sentencing for a state charge of felony child neglect, which was filed after the shooting. It is scheduled for Oct. 27.

In that case, prosecutors agreed to ask for a sentence that falls within state guidelines, expected to be no more than six months. Prosecutors also agreed to drop a misdemeanor charge of reckless storage of a firearm.

Zwerner, the teacher who was shot, is suing the school system for $40 million. She accuses school administrators of gross negligence and of ignoring multiple warnings the day of the shooting that the boy had a gun at school.

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