10 Jun 2016

Breastfeeding death 'horrible for everyone'

5:48 pm on 10 June 2016

A Taranaki woman who smothered her baby by falling asleep while breastfeeding, after taking a cocktail of alcohol and drugs, has been found guilty of manslaughter.

The 39-year-old, who has interim name suppression, has been on trial over five days this week in the High Court in New Plymouth.

The woman's six-week-old daughter died in her embrace in February last year.

The Crown argued the woman had been warned not to mix alcohol with prescribed sleeping pills and methadone, but made the decision to do so.

It took the jury of six men and six women just two hours to come to a verdict.

The woman sobbed and gripped the hand of a Department of Corrections officer when the verdict was read out.

Her defence lawyer, Susan Hughes QC, immediately signalled she would apply for a discharge without conviction, and Justice Brown did not enter a conviction today.

'Horrible case for everyone'

The officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Heath Karlson, said it was a tragic case but important to put it before the court.

"I'm ecstatic about the verdict. We gave the deceased baby a voice after death. We weren't prepared to let this go, and I think it sends a strong message to the public that the Taranaki community - and in particular juries - are not going to sit by and let child abuse happen."

Such cases were always difficult to prosecute, Detective Karlson said.

"There are no winners in this. We've got a dead baby, she's got no life. Her mother's found guilty of it and her family's put out as well. It's a horrible case for everyone."

In his closing address, Crown prosecutor Justin Marinovich said the baby had no voice or choice in what happened to her and "was at the mercy of her mother's poor decision-making".

He said she was responsible for providing a safe environment to breastfeed.

Ms Hughes argued the woman was suffering the onset of pneumonia and was sleep-deprived when the tragedy occurred.

She said it could not be ruled out that exhaustion and ill health caused her to fall asleep.

The woman had never denied drinking alcohol and taking her prescribed drugs but was not "in a stupor", Ms Hughes said.

"She did not intend to fall asleep, but sleep had overtaken her."

The woman was a loving mum who had never harmed her children, Ms Hughes said.

"She will forever carry the burden for the loss of the child. Forever."

Justice Brown remanded the woman on existing conditions and ordered her to appear for sentencing on 5 August.