16 June 2010

Washington Tragedy Revisited

A little more than a year ago I wrote about the unfortunate case of Carissa Marie Daniels, a teen mother in Washington State who was sentenced to 195 months in prison in the wake of the following events:

When petitioner Carissa Marie Daniels was seventeen years old, she gave birth to a son. At the time, she was a high school student in Washington with no criminal record. She lived with her twenty-two-year-old boyfriend, Clarence Weatherspoon, who was not the father of the child. Weatherspoon did not have a job, so he often stayed at home to watch the baby while petitioner went to school or work.

Hardly a week after birth, the baby began to have health problems. Petitioner promptly took him to the emergency room. The doctor, however, found nothing wrong with the baby. Over the following eight weeks, as her baby continued to ail, petitioner took him to his regular pediatrician or the emergency room on seven additional occasions seeking treatment. But he did not get better. Nine weeks after the baby’s birth, he died. On the morning of his death, petitioner had left him in the care of her boyfriend. After receiving a call from her boyfriend that afternoon saying that her baby looked ill, petitioner came home, found her child limp, and called 911. When paramedics arrived, they determined that the child was dead.

As is common when a baby dies unexpectedly, an autopsy was performed. The autopsy suggested that shaken baby syndrome or blunt head trauma could have caused the child’s death. Those inspecting the baby could not be sure of the cause of death, though, because it typically is “really hard to tell” whether a baby’s ill health is caused by traumas or something congenital, or even “the flu.”

The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, on procedural grounds. The ultimate resolution of the case came this week:

Superior Court Judge Vicki Hogan on Thursday sentenced Daniels to 12 years, one month in prison at the recommendation of deputy prosecutor John Neeb and defense attorney Clayton Dickinson.

Hogan also gave Daniels credit for the nearly eight years she’s already served.

Dickinson told Hogan that his client was 17 at the time of Damon’s death and had been suffering from extreme depression and stress brought on by being a teenage mother with financial troubles.

The result is still the wrong one, but it is worth following stories through to see how they end.

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