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Stayton mom faces manslaughter charge; family speaks

Marion County

STAYTON, Ore. (KOIN) — A Stayton mother faces a manslaughter charge after a suspected arson that took the life of her 2-year-old son in February, but her aunt tells KOIN 6 the woman is not to blame.

Jessica Pearce was arrested and charged in Marion County for both manslaughter and child neglect. The 26-year-old is being held without bail, after a tearful appearance in court Monday.

On February 1, firefighters found Christopher Pearce dead while battling a 3-alarm fire near West Washington Street and North Birch Avenue in Stayton. Officials quickly suspected the fire was started on purpose, according to Oregon State Police. However, investigators still have not disclosed how they think the fire started. They also have not released the results of an autopsy that was performed on Christopher.

Jessica Pearce faces manslaughter and child neglect charges in the Stayton fire that killed a 2-year-old boy, April 22, 2019 (Marion County Sheriff's Office)

Prosecutors argue Pearce has a history of smoking methamphetamine around her son. They say she left him unsupervised the day of his death, and that the toddler likely started the fire.

But Pearce’s aunt, Teri Petre, told KOIN 6 that Pearce left her son with at least two people she was living with.

“I know for a fact that at least two people were in that home with Christopher. He was not in the house by himself. Jessica would leave the home often, it was normal for her to leave her son there and people there watched him.” 

Petre said she was surprised police arrested Pearce, because her niece was so cooperative with detectives.

“Her main focus was to cooperate, talk with them whenever she could, so she had it in her thoughts she was helping them try to find out what happened to her son,” Petre said. “And then she got arrested for this.”

Now, Petre worries her niece will not get a fair trial, after what she describes as constant backlash the family has received on social media.

“We are a nice family. We are a normal family. And we are being slandered. She is being slandered when it has not even been proven she is guilty.”

Pearce is due back in court May 3.

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