Judge gives jail sentences to pair tied to helium-related death

A man and woman changed their pleas today in Jackson County Circuit Court, admitting their roles in the death of an eighth-grade girl who died last year after inhaling helium at a party.

Katherine McAloon, 28, and Richard Mowery, 33, faced multiple charges in the February 2012 death of 14-year-old Ashley Long. Prosecutors said they provided helium at a party for teens and delayed medical care when Ashley collapsed from an embolism that ultimately killed her.

McAloon pleaded no contest to criminal mistreatment charges and guilty to a charge of delivering marijuana to a minor and three counts of furnishing alcohol to minors. Judge Lorenzo Mejia sentenced her to 28 months in prison, along with three months post-prison supervision and about $300 in restitution. She will be eligible for early release.

Mowry pleaded no contest to criminally negligent homicide, for which he will serve 90 days in the Jackson County Jail and three years post-prison supervision. He must pay more than $10,000 in restitution.

Prosecutors said the sentence length comes from the evidence, which showed the incident wasn't malicious, but a result of poor decisions.

"It's really the facts of the case," said Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert.

Police and prosecutors said Long was at McAloon's Alameda Street apartment at a party McAloon was throwing for a 13-year-old relative and that teen's friends. Ashley inhaled helium from a tank with the intent to make her voice higher-pitched, and collapsed after an air bubble entered her blood stream and blocked blood flow.

"Within just seconds, she collapsed," Heckert said.

Long's family and friends packed the courtroom during the plea hearing today. Mother Lori Earp read a written statement, saying the incident has altered her life forever.

"This is all I have left," she said, holding up a small lock of Long's hair in a small baggie.

Stepfather Justin Earp described Long as a bright, compassionate girl who had a 3.5 grade point average, aspired to be a marine biologist, and was loyal to her friends.

"She was the type of girl that would befriend the kid in school that no one else would," Earp said.

Earp also read a letter from one of Long's younger sisters.

"Ashley, we all miss you forever, Ashley," the letter reads. "I wish I could give you a hug."

— Ryan Pfeil

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