A deeply tanned New Jersey mother accused of causing skin burns to her young daughter by taking her into a tanning booth has pleaded not guilty to a child endangerment charge, and the tanning salon's owner appeared to corroborate her story.
Patricia Krentcil faces a second-degree child endangerment charge. Through her attorney, she pleaded not guilty in Newark Municipal Court early today (NZ time). Krentcil is free on US$3500 (NZ$3096) cash bond.
Before today's court hearing, Krentcil, whose skin has a deep bronze colour from regular visits to the tanning salon, called the accusation a lie.
"It's all made up," she said.
She said her daughter, who was five at the time of the alleged incident in mid-April and has since turned six, got sunburned by being outside on an unseasonably warm day. She said her daughter, however, had mentioned to school officials when she complained of itching that she had been to a tanning salon with her mother.
Krentcil had told various TV stations her daughter was in the room at the salon but not in the stand-up tanning booth.
The owner of City Tropics Salon in Nutley, who only identified himself as Anthony, said employees who were there on the day in question told him the girl remained outside with her father and brother and didn't go into the tanning booth while Krentcil was inside.
He said a sign is posted in the salon that refers to New Jersey state law barring anyone under 14 from using a tanning salon.
"I would never harm a child," he said. "I have seven kids of my own. It's just ridiculous."
Krentcil's attorney, John Caruso, said outside court that she will be exonerated, because the evidence will show the child never entered the booth.
"Forget about the presumption of innocence; my client is 150 per cent innocent," Caruso said. "She loves that child more than her whole life. She would never, ever allow her child to go inside a tanning bed."
Police in Nutley told The Nutley Sun newspaper they were called to the child's school April 24 because the kindergartner was in pain from a "pretty severe sunburn."
The child is still living at home with her mother, Caruso told Municipal Court Judge Roslyn Holmes-Grant, though he said the state's child welfare agency is monitoring the family.
Krentcil said she loves tanning and has visited salons for many years but would not do anything to jeopardise her daughter's health.
"Never in my life would I endanger my child by putting her in a tanning booth. I'm not dumb," she said before her scheduled hearing. Outside court, she called herself "a wonderful mother."
According to court records, Krentcil was found guilty of theft by deception in Camden County in 2000 and ordered to pay more than US$4000 in restitution. She also has had more than a dozen civil judgments and liens filed against her in New Jersey and Illinois, where she lived in the 1990s.