Lawyer claims racial bias against black father charged in hot car death

GRENADA, Mississippi -- At least 27 children have died in hot cars so far this year in the U.S. In about half of those cases, someone - usually a parent or guardian - faces criminal charges. But critics say race plays a role in determining who gets charged and who doesn’t and they point to two recent cases in Mississippi as evidence,

Last May, Joshua Blount discovered he left his 8-month-old daughter Shania inside his car for four hours. He had forgotten to drop her off with her grandmother.

Security camera footage from outside the restaurant where he worked captured the moment that haunts him.

“It felt like every part of me was just torn into pieces,” said Blount, 25.

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Joshua Blount, 25, was charged with manslaughter in the hot-car death of his eight-month-old daughter

CBS NEWS

“Everything just crashes. It just felt like your whole world just shut down, knowing her last words were ‘Daddy.’”

One week earlier and 90 miles away, also in Mississippi, a 2-year-old girl named Caroline Bryant died after spending eight hours inside a hot car.

Blount, who is black, was arrested for second-degree murder the day Shania died. The charge was later reduced to manslaughter.

But Caroline’s 37-year-old mother, who is white, was not charged with a crime.

Carlos Moore, Blount’t lawyer, said that he chalks up the difference to racism and, to a lesser extent, gender bias.

“We have an African-American male who, I believe, gets less of the benefit of the doubt than anyone in the criminal justice system,” Moore said.

In both cases, parents were rushing to work. Neither was drunk or impaired. No one has alleged intent. And the same Mississippi law applied.

Mississippi College Law School Prof Matt Steffy said that he sees unfairness in Blount’s manslaughter charge.

“It appears to be a coin flip,” Steffy said. “If you meet the right gender and race expectations, you are treated like a grieving parent. Otherwise, you are treated like a criminal and face 20 years in prison.”

Prosecutors in both cases have not returned calls to CBS News.

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Joshua Blount holding his daughter Shania, who died when Blount left her in a hot car

Blount Family

Shanice Caradine, Shania’s mother, said that she has forgiven Blount. “Josh wouldn’t hurt his child,” she said.

“I take full responsibility, but I did nothing on purpose,” Blount said. “It was just a tragic accident.

Blount faces up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted, but said that nothing could punish him more than his own anguish.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.