A Pahrump woman who lost three young sons in a house fire last week has been freed from jail so that she can be with her family as they prepare a funeral for the boys.
Pahrump Justice of the Peace Tina Brisebill released 29-year-old Sharon Broadhead on her own recognizance during a hearing Monday that raised new questions about the woman's arrest.
Tom Gibson, the public defender who represents Broadhead, suggested it was "premature" and possibly "unethical" for authorities to book her on charges he called "a legal impossibility."
"What we have here is a horrible accident," Gibson told the court. "It will be a travesty to hold a person in custody and not let her attend her own children's funeral."
Nye County sheriff's officials arrested Broadhead on Saturday and booked her on four counts of involuntary manslaughter and three counts of child abuse and neglect causing death.
She has not been formally charged with a crime.
On Monday, Nye County District Attorney Brian Kunzi said he had not seen the arrest report or any other information from the sheriff's department regarding Broadhead's arrest.
Deputy District Attorney Charlie Watkins didn't oppose Broadhead's release during Monday's hearing.
"I haven't seen anything that says she's a danger to the public," Watkins said. "I don't think she's a flight risk."
The judge agreed.
"I am more concerned about her mental state right now and her condition, and it's not being well served where she is. She needs to be with her family right now," Brisebill said.
The fire Wednesday morning at the house in Pahrump, 60 miles west of Las Vegas, claimed the lives of 18-month-old Elliot Broadhead, 4-year-old Zachary Broadhead, 5-year-old Brandon Michael Smith and family friend Crystal Smiley, 24.
Sharon Broadhead was the only one to escape the fire.
Michael Kolpak, the lead investigator with the state fire marshal's office, said one of the children likely started the fire by accident, but a final cause had not been determined.
He said investigators were waiting for test results on samples taken from the origin of the blaze.
"I don't know how long it will take," Kolpak said. "At this point, there's not much more I can tell you."
According to sheriff's investigators, Broadhead admitted under questioning that one of her children previously set small, unreported fires at the manufactured home on Pahrump's west side.
During Monday's hearing, Gibson argued that detectives had "very weak probable cause" to arrest his client, let alone accuse her of involuntary manslaughter.
"I'm not knocking the sheriff's office; they're not lawyers, but this is a legal impossibility under the facts, as I understand them to be, used to charge this woman," Gibson said.
But Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo accused Broadhead's attorney of commenting on the investigation without the benefit of "the full facts."
He said the evidence collected by his officers shows "a pattern of neglect of the children" by their mother.
"He's not a police officer; he's an attorney," DeMeo said of Gibson. "If he wants to play police officer, he's welcome to join the academy and undergo the training."
Gibson acknowledged that his only knowledge of the case came from what he read in the newspaper.
The public defender said he went to see Broadhead at the jail after reading about her arrest because he suspected she might not be able to afford a lawyer and her case would be assigned to his office anyway.
"I've been doing this job a long time. I usually don't feel sorry for people. I feel bad for what happened to them, but I don't feel sorry for them," Gibson said.
Broadhead was the exception.
"This poor girl was shaking and quivering and rocking back and forth," Gibson said of his meeting with her at the jail.
Broadhead's next court appearance has been scheduled for March 28.
Services for the fire victims will be held this week, starting with a viewing Tuesday night and a funeral for the three boys at noon Wednesday at Pahrump's new Mormon chapel at 5461 Manse Road.
Timothy B. Sutton, a spokesman for the boys' father, said the media have been asked not to attend.
"We would like to respect the family's privacy," he said.
A viewing for Smiley will take place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday at Pahrump Valley Mortuary. A funeral will take place at 2 p.m. Friday at the Pahrump Community Church, 1061 E. Wilson Road.
Review-Journal writer Mike Blasky contributed to this report. Contact reporter Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350.