SPARTANBURG, South Carolina (AP) — A judge sentenced a woman to 20 years in prison Friday for killing her 6-week-old daughter with what prosecutors say was an overdose of morphine delivered through her breast milk.
A prosecutor said Stephanie Greene, 39, was a nurse and knew the dangers of taking painkillers while pregnant and breast feeding, instead choosing to conceal her pregnancy from doctors so she could keep getting her prescriptions. She lost her nursing license in 2004 for trying to get drugs illegally.
Greene’s lawyer said she was only trying to stop debilitating pain from a car crash more than a decade before and relied on her own judgment and medical research on the Internet instead of the advice of doctors and is still overwhelmed with grief from the loss of her child.
The 20-year sentence was the minimum after a jury found Greene guilty of homicide by child abuse Friday. She could have faced life behind bars. Greene will have to serve 16 years before she is eligible for parole.
Both the prosecutor and Greene’s lawyer agree no mother has ever been prosecuted in the United States for killing her child through a substance transmitted in breast milk. Also, prosecutors didn’t prove how the baby got the morphine and there is little scientific evidence that enough morphine can gather in breast milk to kill an infant, Greene’s lawyer Rauch Wise said.
Greene’s husband did not talk to reporters. Wise said he supported his wife and was devastated as he prepared to raise their 7-year-old son alone.
Greene’s fourth pregnancy in 2010 was unplanned, but she and her husband of 10 years joyously accepted the surprise, her lawyer said. She has two children from a previous marriage.
Alexis was born healthy, and her mother chose to breast feed. Forty-six days later, Greene called medics to report her baby was unconscious in her bed. On a recording of the call, she sounds groggy and unfocused. The former nurse first tries to do CPR compressions on the baby’s back and has trouble counting to keep pace. Investigators at the scene found dozens of pill bottles and painkiller patches on her nightstand where the couple’s then 4-year-old son could get to them.
A toxicology report from the baby’s autopsy found a level of morphine in the child’s body that a pathologist testified could have been lethal for an adult, prosecutor Barry Barnette said.