In the first such conviction ever in the United States, a former nurse who fed her daughter an overdose of morphine through her breast milk has been sentenced to a prison term of 20 years. Stephanie Greene of South Carolina was found guilty Thursday of involuntary manslaughter, homicide by child abuse, and unlawful neglect of a child.
During the trial, prosecutors stated that Greene, 39, was pregnant and knew that she was pregnant when she visited several doctors in 2010 in order to obtain prescriptions for morphine as well as other types of painkillers. Greene had been taking pain medications due to chronic pain caused by a car accident ten years before as well as a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. When her pregnancy became too advanced to conceal, Greene sent her husband in to various doctors’ offices to pick up prescriptions for her. She also hid her painkiller addiction from the OB/GYN who was supplying her with prenatal care.
After the death of her daughter Alexis, who was just six weeks old, toxicology results showed that at least four drugs were present in the infant’s system, including morphine, which was present at a level that would be lethal not only for a baby, but for an adult as well. Because there were no needle marks on Alexis’ body, investigators determined that the drugs must have been passed to her while she was breastfeeding.
Baby Alexis was discovered dead in the bed of her parents on Nov. 13, 2013. There were no external signs to suggest any particular cause of death. Police reported that when they arrived on the scene, Greene was slurring her words and having trouble focusing her eyes and walking.
One of Greene’s lawyers, Rauch Wise, stated during the trial that the painkillers his client was taking were necessary in order for her to simply get out of bed in the morning. Her pain was so great that she received total disability payments. Defense attorneys also argued that breastfeeding could not have passed to the child a sufficient amount of drugs to cause the baby’s death. Prosecutors countered by saying that upon examination and testing, no other cause for the infant’s death was found. In addition, a medical expert gave sworn testimony at trial that children who receive an overdose of morphine do not gain weight. At the time of baby Alexis’ death, she weighed just four ounces more than when she was born. In addition, prosecutors also charged that since Greene was a nurse, she certainly knew that could be passing substances in her body to her daughter via breastfeeding.
Greene, who holds a BSN degree, must serve no less than 16 years of her prison term, which was the minimum sentence she could have received by law. In addition, she has also been indicted on 38 counts of obtaining drugs fraudulently. It is expected that she will appeal her conviction on the grounds that there is insufficient evidence available to prove that lethal doses of morphine can be passed to a child through a mother’s milk while breastfeeding.
Said the solicitor for the 7th Judicial Circuit, Barry Barnette, “She loved her drugs more than she loved her baby.”
By Jennifer Pfalz