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South Carolina woman sentenced to 20 years in fatal breast feeding overdose

South Carolina woman sentenced to 20 years in fatal breast feeding overdose
Photo by Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office

A South Carolina woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison Friday after being found guilty of murdering her 6-week old daughter through what prosecutors presented as a fatal dose of morphine delivered through the woman’s breast milk. Making the crime even more heinous is the fact that the woman is a former nurse and knew what she was doing, according to an April 4 report on MSN News.

Stephanie Greene, 39, was convicted the day before her Friday sentencing. She remained silent as the sentence was meted out. Greene is the first woman ever prosecuted in the U.S. for causing the death of her child by means of a substance transferred in the breast milk.

Her sentence was the minimum allowable as she could have received a life sentence. Her lawyer has indicated there will be an appeal and he expects the case to be tied up court for years.

Baby Alexis was found dead in her parents’ bed a scant 46 days after she was born healthy in November of 2010. The level of morphine discovered in the child’s body during the autopsy was sufficient to have caused death in an adult according to the pathologist who testified in the case. Since no needle marks were found on the baby, authorities presumed the mother must have transferred it to the baby in her breast milk.

During the investigation, Greene’s medical records revealed her despicable acts. Greene hid the pregnancy from her primary care physician. She learned of her pregnancy from a home test kit and requested a referral from her primary doctor to a gynecologist on the grounds she needed birth control. She received prenatal care without disclosing to that doctor that she was taking prescription painkillers. As her pregnancy advanced, she skipped the appointments with her primary doctor and sent her husband to pick up the prescription refills, according to prosecutor Barry Barnette.

Barnette explained in court that Greene was a former nurse and knew how the system worked. She used it to sustain her secret and caused the death of that child.

Attorney Rauch Wise explained that Greene has suffered from chronic pain for 10 years caused by a car wreck. The 2010 pregnancy was unexpected. She also argued that prosecutors had no idea how the morphine got into the baby’s body and that little scientific evidence exists to support the claim that the drug can collect in the breast milk in sufficient quantities to cause the death of an infant. The lawyer added that Greene was already suffering from the loss of the child and should not have to face jail time.

Defending Greene’s use of the drugs, Wise said “She needed those meds to get up in the morning and function. She was on total disability because of her pain, her fibromyalgia and all the other things wrong with her."

Greene will have to serve no less than 16 years of her sentence before she could be eligible for parole.

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