CROWN POINT — A Gary mother could avoid prison time if a judge accepts her guilty plea to a neglect charge alleging she left her children unattended in a room with crack cocaine and a gun just before her 2-year-old daughter was fatally shot.

Dashana M. Fowler, 22, was offered the plea agreement partly because she has agreed to testify against her then-boyfriend, a convicted felon accused of owning the gun that killed 2-year-old Jayla Miller, authorities said.

Fowler pleaded guilty Monday to a Level 5 felony count of neglect of a dependent resulting in bodily injury. She initially was charged with one count of neglect of a dependent resulting in death, a Level 1 felony, and three counts of neglect of a dependent.

Police found Jayla dead Sept. 4 in a room the boyfriend rented in the 1700 block of Polk Street in Gary, according to court records.

Officers found a semi-automatic handgun on a bed near the girl's body and suspected crack cocaine and a razor blade on a saucer in plain view on a bedroom dresser, court records state.

If Lake Criminal Court Judge Salvador Vasquez accepts Fowler's plea agreement, she would be sentenced to three years in the Department of Correction with credit for her time in the Lake County Jail. The rest of the sentence would be served in Lake County Community Corrections, a work-release program.

Upon questioning from Vasquez during a Monday hearing, Deputy Prosecutor David Rooda said the plea agreement was offered after a review of the case showed Fowler's boyfriend was more culpable for the Jayla's death.

Rooda said he was aware of a federal investigation of Fowler's boyfriend, but charges had not been filed against him in U.S. District Court as of Monday afternoon. The Times is not naming the boyfriend because he hasn't been charged.

During the Monday hearing, Fowler told Vasquez she dropped out of high school in the ninth grade because she was pregnant with her third child and has not received a GED.

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Fowler has five children and no previous criminal convictions, she told the court.

Fowler said she could handle the supervision imposed as part of the Community Transition Court, which Vasquez oversees.

Gojko Kasich, Fowler's attorney, asked that his client be released pending sentencing.

Fowler already has served 245 days in jail, has no criminal record and was not a flight risk because she's lived in the area all of her life, Kasich said.

Vasquez denied the request, saying he takes the case seriously and that the plea agreement is under advisement. 

Vasquez set Fowler's sentencing hearing for June 3.

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