Shawnee mother pleads guilty in death of 18-month-old son who was killed in house fire

Firefighters on scene early on the morning of Feb. 13 at a house fire on W. 69th Terrace. File photo credit Mike Frizzell.

Karlie Phelps, the mother of an 18-month-old boy who was killed in a February house fire, has pleaded guilty to two charges related to the incident as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

As part of the deal, Phelps has agreed to testify against the boy’s father, Nicholas Ecker, who is charged with first degree murder in his son’s death and is set to face a jury trial.

Phelps, 28, appeared in Johnson County District Court via Zoom on Thursday morning.

She pleaded guilty to felony involuntary manslaughter of a child under the age of six and a misdemeanor charge of endangering a child, both charges in connection to the fire on Feb. 13 at her home on W. 69th Terrace.

Prosecutors allege that Ecker intentionally set the fire. The couple’s infant son was home alone at the time and was killed. Phelps later admitted to investigators that she had left her son at home while she went to buy drugs at a house in Kansas City, Kan.

Plea deal

Judge Timothy McCarthy accepted Phelps’s plea on Thursday and scheduled sentencing for Oct. 6.

Online court records show that prosecutors plan to seek 10 years in prison without probation for Phelps for the involuntary manslaughter count and another year for the child endangerment charge to be served concurrently.

Phelps’s attorney Scott Toth confirmed to the Post in an email Thursday that Phelps’s defense team will ask the judge to sentence Phelps to probation instead of going to prison.

As part of the deal, Phelps has agreed to testify against Ecker in his case.

Ecker earlier this month pleaded not guilty to multiple charges related to the fire, including first degree murder, aggravated arson and aggravated domestic battery, and is now headed for a jury trial.

House arrest conditions

Karlie Mae Phelps. Image via Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.

On Thursday, Toth asked the judge to consider modifying Phelps’s house arrest, stating that she received a “very favorable house arrest report” recently and has been cooperating as a state’s witness against Ecker.

In Wednesday morning’s hearing, Toth asked the court for leniency on the conditions of Phelps’s house arrest now that the guilty plea has been entered and the sentencing date set.

“I can tell you she’s completed 60 days of in-patient treatment before she testified last week and she’s doing follow-up, advanced outpatient treatment,” Toth told the court. “It’s about a 180-degree turnaround from when I first started representing her.”

Assistant District Attorney Will Hurst opposed modifications to Phelps’s bond conditions, arguing that she should remain on house arrest until her sentencing.

“I certainly can’t refute Mr. Toth’s comments about the things she’s done since this event took place,” Hurst said. “However, that doesn’t change the fact that she is now convicted of involuntary manslaughter of a child.”

Judge McCarthy ultimately denied Toth’s request to amend the conditions of Phelps’s bond, leaving her on house arrest until sentencing on Oct. 6.

Separate charges to be dismissed

On March 2, following her initial arrest related to the fire and later release, Phelps was charged with two more crimes, violating a protection order and intimidation of a witness.

The district attorney’s office alleges that Phelps, while out on bond, contacted a witness named in the cases that she pleaded guilty to today.

When Shawnee Police arrested her after the fire, she was also charged separately with felony possession of Oxycodone.

All those charges are set to be dismissed at the Oct. 6 sentencing as part of the plea deal reached Thursday on the charges related to the fire.

Mike Frizzell is a freelance crime and fire reporter who runs Operation 100 News.

Editor Kyle Palmer contributed to this report.