Washington state mother pleads not guilty in death of toddler

Mon Aug 4, 2014 6:51pm EDT

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(Reuters) - A Washington state woman locked in a custody battle pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of murdering her toddler and badly wounding her teenage daughter in an Oregon hotel room, court officials said.

Jessica Smith, 40, was arraigned in a court in Clastop County a day after authorities found her sheltering in her car on a logging road near Cannon Beach, 80 miles west of Portland, law enforcement and court officials said.

Smith, of Goldendale, Washington, had checked into an oceanfront hotel in Cannon Beach last Wednesday with her daughters, aged 2 and 13, Cannon Beach police said.

On Friday a housekeeper at the hotel found the 2-year-old lifeless and the teenage girl critically wounded from cut wounds, police said. There were no adults in the room.

An autopsy determined the toddler's death was a homicide, but it did not confirm a cause. The teenager was in stable condition at a Portland hospital, the Oregonian newspaper reported.

Police began searching for Smith and on Sunday issued an arrest warrant accusing her of aggravated murder and aggravated attempted murder. A Coast Guard helicopter spotted her car off a logging road about 30 minutes from the hotel, police said.

Smith was going through a divorce and locked in a custody battle with the girls' father, court records show.

She had been under a court order to turn over the children to their father on Friday evening, the day the girls were found in the hotel room, the Oregonian said.

Smith entered her not guilty plea represented by a court-appointed attorney and was due back in court on Aug. 11, a Clastop County court spokeswoman said.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere in Seattle; Editing by Eric Beech)

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