SC Mom Whose Baby Overdosed On Morphine In Breast Milk Sentenced To 20 Years

On Thursday, a jury found a 39-year-old South Carolina mother guilty of the homicide of her six-week-old daughter, Alexis, and she was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The mother, Stephanie Greene, was initially accused in Nov. 2010 of transmitting morphine to her baby via breastfeeding.

Shortly after investigators found Alexis dead in Greene's bed, they found Greene to be exhibiting signs of disorientation, including slurred speech. Afterwards, the autopsy showed a high dosage of morphine in the baby's system — high enough to have killed an adult. As for Greene, the toxicology report showed she had dangerous levels of morphine in her system, as well as traces of other drugs.

Over time, prosecutors collected evidence hinting that Greene may have intended to kill her baby. Medical records showed Greene did not disclose her pregnancy to her primary doctor — in fact, she even went to the doctor and informed him she needed a gynecologist for birth control. Her new gynecologist provided her natal care but was completely unaware of the painkillers the other doctor was prescribing her. Further along in her pregnancy, she missed appointments with her doctors.

"She was a nurse. She knew how to work the system," said prosecutor Barry Barnette at the trial. "She caused the loss of that child."

Because the baby showed no needle marks, the prosecutors' argument to the jury was that she must have transmitted the morphine through her breast milk.

But while Greene has been found guilty and received a harsh sentence, her attorney Rauch Wise argued forcefully that the baby's autopsy didn't prove that she received the morphine via breastfeeding. He also said there wasn't enough scientific evidence to prove such a lethal dose of morphine could be transmitted via breast milk, and that the mother was taking painkillers to cope with chronic pain from a car accident 10 years before.

Greene's attorney announced that they would be appealing the sentence. He also affirmed that no mother had ever been prosecuted before in the U.S. for killing her child through a drug overdose via breastfeeding — a fact that the prosecutor agreed with.

The results of Greene's trial comes just one week after a mother in Arkansas was arrested because she allegedly drank two beers before she started breastfeeding her baby at a restaurant. While the two cases are very different in nature, particularly that the Arkansas was consuming alcohol and not painkillers, they both raise the question of whether punishing or prosecuting a mother for transmitting a substance via her breast milk is legitimate.