Defense seeks plea for mom of 6-year-old accused of shooting teacher

Posted at 3:34 PM, April 14, 2023 and last updated 4:42 PM, May 11, 2023

By: Penny Kmitt

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WTKR) — Deja Taylor, the mother of the 6-year-old boy who police say shot his teacher at Richneck Elementary School, went before a judge for her arraignment Friday. Her lawyer, James Ellenson, said they’re hoping to work out a plea deal.

Ellenson escorted 25-year-old Taylor into the Newport News Circuit Court for her arraignment. She faces two charges: felony child neglect and a misdemeanor count of leaving a firearm in a way that could endanger a child.

Deja Taylor booking photo

Deja Taylor is charged with felony child neglect and misdemeanor recklessly leaving a loaded firearm to endanger a child (Richmond Police/WTKR)

The charges are in connection to an incident at Richneck Elementary School, in which police say her 6-year-old son shot his first-grade teacher, Abby Zwerner.

“There’s a number of mitigating circumstances that will come to light as the case proceeds,” said Ellenson.

RELATED: Lawsuit filed by Virginia teacher details day she was shot

One of those circumstances, according to Ellenson, is a 2021 ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage.

He says his client experienced intense mental health issues following the miscarriage, which contributed to the January shooting.

“That resulted in postpartum depression and that has been a large factor in a number of the events that led up to the unfortunate event on January 6,” said Ellenson.

Ellenson says he requested a bench trial rather than a jury trial for Taylor in the hopes of reaching some type of agreement with Newport News Commonwealth Attorney Howard Gwynn.

“I don’t necessarily, and I don’t think the Commonwealth does either, think that jail is the right answer,” said Ellenson.

At the bench trial, Ellenson says he anticipates testimony from a healthcare professional to discuss the miscarriage. He says Richneck Elementary School employees could possibly provide testimony as well.

READ MORE: Criminal probe focuses on school where boy, 6, shot teacher

“In the reports, there were three times the assistant principal knew or heard the child had a gun, so I would think that would all come into place. So yes, we would probably subpoena a number of people in the school,” said Ellenson.

Ellenson wouldn’t comment on the status of Taylor’s 6-year-old son, but he did say that the child’s father is in the picture.

“They are in a committed relationship,” said Ellenson.

When asked why his client is the only one facing charges, Ellenson responded, “You’d have to ask Mr. Gwynn.”

Gwynn has not revealed if the father could be charged.

The bench trial is currently slated for August 15 at 10 a.m.

This story was originally published on April 14, 2023, by WTKR in Norfolk, an E.W. Scripps Company.