Jury hears of child's drug death

Defendant told police she believed boy had spit out methadone and was OK, detective testifies

March 10, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

A Darlington woman accused of criminal negligence in the death of a 16-month-old who overdosed on methadone in 2004, told police that she did not seek help because she believed the boy had spit out enough of the substance to avoid harm, a detective testified yesterday.

The defense attorney for Elaine Marie Butler is seeking to show that the 53-year-old committed a "tragic accident" when she unwittingly gave Ashton Timothy Preston some of his mother's methadone that had been poured into a Mickey Mouse cup and placed in a cupboard.

Butler, of the 1200 block of Castleton Road, is on trial in Harford County Circuit Court and faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and accessory after the fact.

Prosecutors say Butler, a registered nurse, ignored signs of an overdose and failed to act after realizing the child had ingested methadone.

During the first full day of testimony yesterday, assistant state's attorney Salvatore Fili presented photos that depicted Butler's house in disarray, with nearly every surface covered with dirty dishes, bottles and other containers.

A friend of the boy's mother, Kelley Jean Briggs, tearfully testified that the child was poorly cared for, wearing dirty clothes and unchanged diapers and feeding himself.

In opening statements Wednesday, defense attorney Will Abercrombie Jr. said Butler was a caring individual who was close enough to the boy and his mother that she was considered family. But he also tried to show that Briggs and her son were not Butler's responsibility. They formed a relationship after meeting at church, he said.

Last month, Briggs, 23, was ordered to serve five years in prison after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the child's death.

Police said Briggs left methadone - which is used by heroin addicts to ease withdrawal symptoms - in the child's cup in a kitchen cabinet on Dec. 15, 2004. Butler realized the liquid was methadone when the toddler spit some out and dropped the cup to the floor. After dinner, the boy seemed drowsy and all three took a nap, but only Briggs and Butler woke up.

During testimony yesterday, detectives said Butler told them that although she was a nurse, she worked in geriatric care and did not know how to recognize the signs of an overdose. However, Butler told the officers that the methadone often made Briggs so tired that she rarely took a full dose. She gave the boy two cups of apple juice and a bottle of milk in hopes that it would dilute the substance, they testified.

Fili has promised the jury a chance to smell methadone, a substance that he said is engineered to have a putrid taste.

The boy's father, Timothy Preston, 23, has sat in the courtroom with his family the past two days.

He said it is the first time that he has heard a detailed account of what happened that night.

He was in prison, serving a 90-day sentence for driving with a suspended license, at the time of the incident and was not able to attend his son's funeral.

"It just doesn't make any sense," he said. "You don't take a cup out of the cupboard and give it to a kid. That's like drinking out of a puddle in the street. She [Butler] has to have better sense than that."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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