Woman Enters Plea In Death Of Baby

Friday, September 21st 2007, 12:31 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An Oklahoma City woman who authorities say had a methamphetamine addiction that led to her baby being stillborn in 2004 pleaded guilty on Friday to second-degree murder.

Theresa Lee Hernandez, 30, entered the plea in Oklahoma County District Court. District Judge Virgil Black set a December 21 sentencing hearing for Hernandez.

Hernandez, who has been in jail since September 2004, faces a prison sentence of 10 years to life. District Attorney David Prater said he would ask Black to impose a 25-year sentence, with the last 10 suspended.

Hernandez had been charged with first-degree murder, but Prater said prosecutors decided to reduce the charge because it better fit the facts of the case. Prater said he ``did not believe that it was an intentional murder of her fetus,'' but that Hernandez ``was clearly indifferent'' to any effect her drug use would have on her child.

Her trial had been set to begin next month.

``This isn't one of those cases where we're happy with the situation,'' Prater said. ``We've got a dead child we'll never be able to bring back and a mother being sent to prison.

``She probably would have never known the first time she stuck a needle in her arm and used methamphetamine that it would lead to the death of her baby and then her going to prison.''

Hernandez's supporters have said it cannot be proven that her drug use caused her baby to be stillborn. On Thursday, 31 national and state medical, public health, and advocacy groups, as well as 19 medical health care providers and experts, filed an amicus, or friend of the court, brief in support of a motion made September 12 by Hernandez's attorney, James Rowan of Oklahoma City, to dismiss the charge against Hernandez.

Rowan did not immediately return phone messages left at his office Friday by The Associated Press.

In the brief, Hernandez's supporters argue that prosecuting her would discourage drug-dependent women from seeking health care during pregnancy and thus negatively affect both their health and that of their unborn child.

``We don't want to set this precedent,'' said Dana Stone, an Oklahoma City doctor who is the chairwoman of the Oklahoma section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ``We don't want to discourage women from coming in for prenatal care, which is the best way to protect babies.''

Stone, who signed the amicus brief, said medical issues involving drug use during pregnancy should be addressed by medical experts and not through the use of the legal system. She said using methamphetamine while pregnant ``can't be a beneficial thing at all for your baby,'' but that no studies definitively prove using the drug would lead to a child being stillborn.

``What is dangerous is prosecuting her legally for a medical outcome that can occur with or without a drug issue,'' Stone said.

Hernandez's baby, born April 17, 2004, had twice as much methamphetamine in his body as would kill an adult, former District Attorney Wes Lane said after filing the first-degree murder charge against Hernandez that September. Lane said at the time the charge was the first of its kind filed in Oklahoma.

He said he could file the charge because under the state's abortion law, a fetus is considered viable after 24 weeks. Hernandez's baby was born after 32 weeks of pregnancy. Prater, who took office earlier this year, said in June he planned to continue pursuing a murder conviction against Hernandez.

Prater said he did not know if the case would set a precedent and that whether it did or not ``is not a concern of mine. What is a concern is seeking justice for the citizens of this county, including this baby, and punishing Ms. Hernandez justly, not excessively.''

Prater said Hernandez has previous drug convictions and already had lost custody of her five living children.