HENDERSON COUNTY, N.C. (WLOS) — District Attorney Andrew Murray announced a Hendersonville woman has been sentenced after pleading guilty to second degree murder in the stabbing death of her 5-year-old daughter, which happened in April 2021.
Penny Short Hartle, 51, pled guilty to second degree murder on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, following a plea agreement. After a lengthy sentencing hearing, Superior Court Judge Peter Knight accepted the open-ended plea arrangement between the state of North Carolina and the defendant, after a psychiatrist and several family members testified.
Knight sentenced Hartle to prison for a minimum term of 157 months (13 years) up to a maximum term of 201 months (17 years).
On April 21, 2021, Henderson County Sheriff's Office deputies and detectives responded to a 911 call at 8:43 a.m. of a stabbing incident involving a child at a residence on Fiesta Lane. Upon deputies' arrival to the scene, Wayne Cagle told officers he had found his 5-year-old daughter, Caroline Rose, in her bedroom with a stab wound to her chest. Cagle told officers he had attempted to perform CPR on the child, and said, "How could she do this?" to the officers. When they asked to whom he was referring, Cagle said, "her mom."
MOTHER CHARGED IN STABBING DEATH OF 5-YEAR-OLD HAD NO CRIMINAL HISTORY, STATE RECORDS SHOW
Court records show deputies located a knife from the kitchen, which was determined to be the murder weapon.
Prior to the dispatch call reporting the stabbing, a deputy located Hartle, the live-in girlfriend of Cagle and mother of Caroline Rose, after a neighbor down the street had called 911 at 7:42 a.m. reporting a breaking and entering. An unknown woman, now known to be Hartle, had been found in a bed at the caller's residence. The woman had left the residence and entered an unlocked truck across the street by the time deputies arrived.
When officers made contact with Hartle in the truck, court records say they found her to be experiencing a medical emergency, as she could not respond to questions with anything more than her first name. The report said Hartle was shaking, mumbling and appeared to be in diabetic shock. She was immediately transported by EMS to the hospital. Once in the ambulance, officers were able to obtain that her last name was Hartle, and after inputting her information through data banks, they determined her address.
Deputies went to the listed address, where they made contact with Cagle who then informed them that Hartle was his girlfriend of five years. Deputies then notified Cagle of Hartle's breaking and entering incident and medical condition, after which Cagle said he had not seen Hartle the entire night and that they had not slept in the same bedroom in years. Cagle also said, according to court documents, that Hartle was disabled, suffered from mental issues, that he didn't believe she had been taking her medicine and that she had been acting strangely lately.
HENDERSON COUNTY WOMAN COMPETENT TO STAND TRIAL FOR DAUGHTER'S KILLING, JUDGE RULES
Minutes after deputies left, deputies were dispatched back to the Cagle residence with a report of a child found stabbed in her bedroom.
Immediately upon learning of the child's death, a deputy was dispatched to the hospital, where he found Hartle being wheeled into a treatment room and placed her in handcuffs. The medical team documented Hartle had a laceration to the palm of her hand. When the medical team released Hartle from the hospital, she was transported to the Henderson County jail for the murder of her child, Caroline Rose.
Reports say that at the jail, Hartle displayed signs of significant mental illness. Once her counsel had been assigned, they requested and Judge Knight granted that Hartle was incapable to proceed and ordered that she be evaluated and treated for her mental condition at Broughton Psychiatric Hospital in Morganton, N.C.
Court records said at Broughton, Hartle was evaluated and determined to be incapable of meaningfully assisting in her defense or standing trial. Following months of treatment there, officials say Hartle's condition had improved substantially, and though she was found to have significant psychological impairments, she was found to be competent to stand trial and participate in her own defense with proper care and continued treatment.
District Attorney Murray said a plea arrangement was reached -- with Hartle pleading guilty to a reduced charge of second degree murder and the sentencing being left to the discretion of Superior Court Judge Peter Knight.
Murray said during the lengthy sentencing hearing, a psychiatrist testified on Hartle's behalf, and several members of Hartle's family who sat on opposite sides of the courtroom aisle also provided testimony of the "profound impact" the crime had on their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
Court documents show during their testimonies, several of Hartle's family members said Hartle loved and adored her daughter and that she would have never harmed her had she been in her right state of mind.
Assistant District Attorneys Doug Mundy and Beth Dierauf handled the prosecution and sentencing of this case.