We have just returned from the South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia, where this story is on the front page of the Columbia State:
Saturday, Feb. 23, 2008
Mother of stillborn girl charged with homicide by child abuse
By LEE HIGGINS - email@example.com
A baby girl is dead — stillborn at 27 weeks, her body ravaged by cocaine — and her mother is in jail, charged with homicide by child abuse.She left the Family Dollar and had the stillborn baby on the sidewalk? Isn't that enough punishment, or am I just a liberal softy?
The mother walked out of the Family Dollar on Farrow Road one day in October, lay down on the sidewalk and gave birth to the stillborn baby girl, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Friday.
Charlene Green, 37, of Congaree Road in Eastover, was arrested Friday after toxicology tests showed her cocaine use during pregnancy killed her daughter, Lott said.
“Every time she used drugs, she was killing that child — a little more each time,” Lott said.
It was the second time one of Green’s children had tested positive for cocaine at birth, Lott said. The first time, seven years ago, the child lived and Green was not charged, he said.
“That child was fortunate and survived,” Lott said. “This child was not.
The 7-year-old is no longer in Green’s custody, he said.
The baby girl weighed just more than a pound and a half when she was born at 27 weeks.
The S.C. Supreme Court has ruled a fetus able to survive outside the womb is a person under state child-abuse and neglect laws. Twenty-four weeks is typically the threshold of viability for a fetus outside the womb.
Autopsy results showed the baby died of cardiac arrest due to maternal cocaine use, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said. The baby had cocaine at some level in her liver, brain and kidney tissue, he said.
“This is a horrible situation,” Watts said. “The poor kid didn’t ever have a chance.”
Cocaine use during pregnancy can cause the placenta to separate from the uterus prematurely, cutting off the baby’s lifeline to the mother, leading to premature delivery, said Dr. Clay Nichols, the medical examiner for Richland County who autopsied Green’s baby.
“What I recall is this poor woman had a long history of drug abuse,” Nichols said.
The baby was pronounced dead at 1:19 p.m. Oct. 22 at Palmetto Health Baptist, where she had been taken by ambulance after her mother gave birth to her outside the Family Dollar, Watts said.
That birth aroused suspicion at the time, Lott said. Green admitted to investigators at the time that she had used cocaine throughout her pregnancy, he said.
She was arrested Friday in the 1800 block of Wiley Street, which is an area that has a history of illegal drug activity, Lott said.
State Law Enforcement Division records show Green has been convicted over the past 17 years of possession of cocaine, burglary, simple assault, shoplifting and larceny.
Green is the second Midlands woman to be charged with homicide by child abuse within the past five months after giving birth to a baby who tested positive for cocaine.
Lorraine Patrick, 28, of Columbia, was charged in October after doctors said her baby died of complications from exposure to cocaine in her mother’s womb. The child died four days after it was born.
Through the end of 2005, at least 90 women have been prosecuted in the state, accused of using drugs while pregnant, according to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, a nonprofit, which favors treatment over prosecution for drug-addicted pregnant women.
In 1997, Talitha Garrick became the first woman in the state convicted of killing her unborn child by smoking crack cocaine. She pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and received probation.
Four years later, in 2001, Regina McKnight of Horry County was convicted of homicide by child abuse for using cocaine during her pregnancy and was sentenced to 12 years.
The S.C. Supreme Court upheld her conviction, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear her case.
Will prosecutors ask for the death penalty?