Jury deadlocks in baby's breast milk meth poisoning case
Corona, Calif. (AP) - A judge declared a mistrial Thursday after jurors said they were deadlocked in the case of a woman accused of killing her baby by nursing with methamphetamine-laced breast milk, a district attorney's spokeswoman said.
The jury deadlocked 6-6 in the case against the baby's mother, Amy Leanne Prien, which has drawn national attention for its unusual circumstances, said Ingrid Wyatt, spokeswoman for the Riverside County district attorney's office.
"It's certainly a disappointment. The goal is always to try and get a verdict in any case," she said. "It was a very difficult case with complicated issues involved."
Prien had faced 15 years to life if she had been convicted.
The district attorney's office has until July 11 to decide on retrying the case, which began when Prien was arrested in January 2002 and was charged with murdering 3-month-old Jacob Wesley Smith.
Prien was convicted of second-degree murder in 2003, but an appeals court overturned the conviction in September, citing flawed jury instructions from the trial judge.
The prosecution was believed to be the first of its kind in California.
Prien said she woke up and found her son dead in her bed on Jan. 19, 2002. The prosecution argued during the trial that Prien, who had smoked meth for 10 to 15 years, would breast feed her child after smoking even though she knew it could damage him.
"She continued to breast feed that baby because she didn't care," Supervising Deputy District Attorney Allison Nelson argued during last week's closing arguments. "She was responsible to protect him, to protect him. The choices the defendant made cost him his life."
When Prien was arrested, blood tests showed the methamphetamine levels in her blood were within a potentially lethal range, but police never tested her breast milk.
Her attorney, Los Angeles-based Joe Reichmann, argued that the charges were based on "make believe science" because authorities never knew how much of the drugs were in her milk.
"A really vital piece of evidence was not taken — preventing the defendant from really getting a fair trial," Reichmann said during his closing argument.
The jury began deliberating on June 15 after a 2 1/2-month trial.
Reichmann did not immediately return calls for comment Thursday.