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Mother and her brother sentenced in 2016 drowning death of her 3-year-old in Lower Swatara

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 5/9/18

A mother and her brother will avoid time behind bars for their role in the July 31, 2016, drowning death of a 3-year-old girl in Lower Swatara Township.

Austin Biller, 19, of the 2000 block of …

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Mother and her brother sentenced in 2016 drowning death of her 3-year-old in Lower Swatara

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A mother and her brother will avoid time behind bars for their role in the July 31, 2016, drowning death of a 3-year-old girl in Lower Swatara Township.

Austin Biller, 19, of the 2000 block of West Harrisburg Pike in Lower Swatara Township, was supposed to be babysitting the child, who was his niece. Biller told investigators he fell asleep and that when he woke up, the girl was gone from her high chair.

The girl was found nearby in a pool at a residence in the 100 block of Wayne Avenue.

Dauphin County Court President Judge Richard Lewis on May 8 sentenced Biller to 36 months of intermediate punishment on the charge of involuntary manslaughter.

The sentence calls for Biller to serve the first year on work release. However, Lewis agreed to consider granting Biller early release from work release by giving him credit for having already served six months.

Biller, following work release, is to spend three months on house arrest with electronic monitoring. He is to spend the rest of his sentence on probation. Lewis also sentenced Biller to 200 hours of community service.

Lewis sentenced Biller to 24 months of intermediate punishment on the charge of endangering the welfare of children. However, this is to be served concurrent with the 36 months on the involuntary manslaughter charge.

Biller pleaded no contest to both charges on March 6.

Tiffany Graham, 24, of Carlisle, who was the girl’s mother, had returned home from work early on July 31 and had asked Biller to babysit. Graham on March 6 pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of children.

Immediately after sentencing Biller, Lewis sentenced Graham to six months of probation on the endangerment charge. The involuntary manslaughter charge was withdrawn.

Lewis, before sentencing Biller, heard Biller’s mother plead for leniency. Biller then addressed Lewis and the court, saying, “I think about that day 24 hours a day, wondering what I could have done different.”

“I spent countless hours watching her. I took care of her as if she was my daughter. There is nothing in this world I would not have done for her,” Biller said.

Lewis asked Lower Swatara Township Police Detective Robert Appleby, who investigated the case and brought the charges against Biller and Graham, if he wanted to say anything to address the court. Appleby said he did not.

Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Wisniewski Gettle before Biller was sentenced called the girl’s drowning “a tragic situation” but that a history of prior incidents involving the child getting out of the home unsupervised could not be ignored.

She said she hoped the case will serve as “a wakeup call to other parents out there.”

Lewis agreed that if not for the history of prior incidents involving the child, it is unlikely that charges would have been brought or if they were, that they could have been proven.

Biller could have been sentenced to 9 to 16 months in prison on the involuntary manslaughter charge, and from 3 months to a year on the endangerment charge.

However, Lewis said, “I don’t know that incarceration is appropriate” in the case, he noted just before sentencing Biller.

Biller and Graham had both also been charged with one count each of witness intimidation regarding the case. However, the county has decided not to prosecute either Biller or Graham on the witness intimidation charge.

Lewis on May 8 also sentenced Tiffany Graham’s father, 55-year old Craig Biller, to serve six months’ probation after Biller on March 6 pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence.

Appleby had told the Press & Journal earlier that the girl had escaped from the house so often that her family referred to her as “Little Miss Houdini.”

On July 28, 2016, just three days before the girl drowned, a Middletown highway worker found the child alone eating dirt on a park near the borough Municipal Building at Catherine and Emaus streets. The girl was supposed to have been in Graham’s care at the time, according to police.

On July 12, 2016, the girl was found alone near the Pennsylvania Turnpike bridge in the area of Donald Avenue, while she was in the care of her biological father, police said.