A Humbolt County woman has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment on allegations that meth use during and immediately following her pregnancy led to the death of her infant son.
Late last year, Maggie Jean Wortman took her six-week old son, Michael Acosta III, to an area hospital when she noticed he had stopped breathing. After Acosta passed away, a toxicology report on his body found traces of crystal meth. Authorities charge that Wortman's consumption of the drug caused it to be passed to her son though her breast milk, which caused his death.
A toxicology screening of Wortman's nearly two-year old daughter also came back positive for meth.
According to court documents in the case, Wortman allegedly tested positive for methamphetamine use while six months pregnant with Michael and also admitted to investigators that she used the drug during pregnancy and approximately three times after Michael was born.
Wortman was initially arrested in January but was freed after posting $50,000 bail. She was returned to police custody in April after failing a court-mandated drug test.
The Sacramento Bee reports:
Deputy District Attorney Ben McLaughlin told the Times-Standard of Eureka that his office is considering whether to upgrade the charge. He says prosecutors may pursue voluntary manslaughter or second-degree murder based on evidence presented during Wednesday's preliminary hearing.
In 2003, a Riverside woman was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for murdering her newborn son by feeding him meth-contaminated breast milk, even though she knew doing so would be harmful to his health. That conviction was later overturned by an appellate judge citing faulty jury instructions given by the trial judge.
A similar 2005 case in Salem, Oregon, ended when a woman pled guilty to child endangerment for smoking meth while breast-feeding her nine-month old son.
While the precise effect of breast milk-transferred meth on children isn't completely understood, a 2009 study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology recommended new mothers avoid breast feeding their children for at least 48 hours after recreational methamphetamine use.
Meth usage is a huge issue in Humboldt county--it has one of the highest rates of usage of any county in the state.
If convicted, Wortman faces up to nine years in prison.