OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A judge sentenced a woman to 15 years in prison Friday for delivering a stillborn baby after using methamphetamine during her pregnancy. Theresa Lee Hernandez, 31, entered a guilty plea in September to second-degree murder.
Oklahoma County District Judge Virgil Black suspended an additional 10 years of her sentence and said he would consider a reduction in her prison time next November after she undergoes drug treatment. Hernandez sobbed as the sentence was handed down.
Black followed the sentencing recommendation of District Attorney David Prater.
Prater has been criticized by medical experts and public health and child-welfare advocacy groups who contend that there is no medical evidence that meth use causes stillbirth and that her criminal prosecution sets a dangerous precedent.
Prater said he felt compelled to prosecute Hernandez because evidence shows she is responsible for the death of her child.
Hernandez has had five children, all of whom were taken by the state because of her criminal activity and continued drug use, as well as several miscarriages, Prater said.
"I have a great deal of sympathy for Ms. Hernandez, but I also believe she has to be held accountable for her actions," Prater said. "I just basically had to say, 'we believe that children are very important to us, even unborn children.'
"There is a time where the state has to say enough is enough." An amicus, or friend of the court, brief filed in September supported by more than 30 state and national groups and dozens of medical experts and health professionals, argued that shifting pregnancy loss from a medical arena to a criminal one "has devastating implications for maternal and fetal health."
Dr. Dana Stone, an Oklahoma City doctor and the state chair for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said there are no studies that show a causal link between meth use and stillbirth.
"Nobody is winning with this type of prosecution," Stone said. "We're holding a woman accountable for something that we can't even prove was the demise of her fetus. "It's treating a medical issue as a criminal one."