New DA Won't Drop Murder Charge Against Meth Addict

Sunday, June 24th 2007, 2:09 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma County's new district attorney plans to continue pursuing a murder conviction against a methamphetamine addict whose baby was born stillborn more than three years ago.

Theresa Lee Hernandez, now 30, was charged with first-degree murder after the stillborn birth in April 2004, following 32 weeks of pregnancy. An autopsy on the child indicated lethal amounts of methamphetamine, although Hernandez's supporters have said it can't be proven that her drug use led to the stillborn birth.

Hernandez became the first woman in Oklahoma history to be charged with murder of her unborn child. Hernandez, who has been denied bail, has been jailed since September 2004. Her trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 15.

``It's not fair that she's charged with murder,'' said attorney Robin Shellow, who joined Milwaukee attorney Jim Dixon on Hernandez's case at the request of the New York-based National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

Despite those complaints, David Prater _ who became the county's district attorney earlier this year _ said he is convinced the stillborn boy would have survived if not for Hernandez's drug use. State law considers a pregnancy viable at 24 weeks.

Prater said those who think he shouldn't prosecute Hernandez in the case likely do not understand its history. Prater noted that the state Department of Human Services has taken away Hernandez's custody of five children, including two who had developmental disabilities traced to her drug abuse.

Lynn Paltrow, the director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, has organized a letter-writing campaign on Hernandez's behalf. Janet Peery, the chief executive officer for the YWCA in Oklahoma City, has encouraged others to join the protest.

Peery said that while it's important to hold Hernandez accountable for drug use, it would set a ``dangerous precedent'' to pursue the murder charge.

Critics of Prater's decision believe that Hernandez's prosecution will discourage pregnant women with drug-abuse problems from obtaining the care needed for themselves and their babies.

Prater said that because Hernandez's drug use caused the child's death, it is a criminal matter.

``This is the most serious case of child abuse you can imagine, when the child actually dies,'' Prater said. ``This is clearly a murder, in my opinion.''