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Woman Set Free in Death of Toddler, 2

Law: As new evidence points to boy's father--her ex-boyfriend--as suspect, she leaves jail after serving 21 months for killing.

September 17, 1997|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Twenty-one months after she was sentenced to prison for the highly publicized beating death of her former boyfriend's 2-year-old son, a North Hollywood woman was released late Tuesday on the instructions of a judge who ordered a hearing into new evidence pointing to her innocence.

Eve Wingfield, 24, tearfully embraced her sister Holly Nickels in the inmate reception area of the Twin Towers jail downtown and huddled with Nickels' husband, Rick, and Michael E. Goodman, the lawyer who persuaded a judge last week to reopen Wingfield's case.

She had been serving a 10-year term for the death of Lance Helms in North Hollywood, a slaying that prompted state legislators to overhaul child custody laws.

After a change from jail clothes into jeans and a T-shirt, Wingfield hurried into a white Jeep Cherokee headed for an undisclosed location.

She declined to comment on her case, but her time behind bars was obviously fresh in her mind.

As family members urged her to jaywalk across the street to get to their car, she refused, saying, "I don't want to get in trouble."

The family agreed to look for a crosswalk.

Wingfield pleaded no contest to a child endangerment charge in January 1996. She was allowed to withdraw that plea Friday and enter a plea of not guilty to the original charge of murder, after her lawyer presented the results of an investigation by Los Angeles Police Department detectives indicating that she could not have been home at the time of the toddler's fatal beating.

The detectives' report said the boy was injured while in the sole care of his father, David Helms, who the report said is now a suspect in the death. Although police asked the district attorney's office in November to bring murder charges against him, prosecutors refused to do so and say the investigation is continuing.

Goodman said Wingfield pleaded no contest to the child endangerment charge only because she was advised to do so by a public defender, who counseled her that otherwise she might be convicted of murder.

Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Michael Hoff, who set a hearing in the case for Oct. 27, ordered Wingfield's immediate release Friday. But she quickly found herself stuck in the criminal justice bureaucracy.

First, it was learned that the Dependency Court had ordered a no-bail hold placed on Wingfield in an unrelated case involving custody of her own children, which kept her locked up through the weekend. Another judge lifted that order, clearing the way for her release Monday, but she was not actually freed until after 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Her attorney said a work slowdown by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies appeared to have contributed to the delay.

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