Week In Review

March 12, 2006

Jury hears about child's drug death

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 Thursday.

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 and that he wore dirty clothes and unchanged diapers and fed 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 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.

Friday, Maryland section

Council fails to override veto

The Harford County Council failed Tuesday to override County Executive David R. Craig's veto of a contentious rezoning bill, despite expressing uncertainty about the how the county will move forward on the issue.

Under the county's zoning code guidelines, Craig's veto washes away the past 15 months of planning, said Council President Robert S. Wagner. The rezoning process - which allows property owners to appeal every eight years for changes in how their land is used - would have to be restarted from the beginning.

Administration officials are hopeful that a change in the zoning code will allow the county executive and council to negotiate a compromise using the applications and testimony submitted during the current rezoning process.

Craig has said he would like to see a new bill that grants less new development along Route 22 or outside of the county's designated growth area.

Despite their 5-1 vote in favor of the rezoning bill last month after making more than 50 changes to the package, three of the six voting council members (the seventh is on active military duty) expressed a willingness to work with Craig and voted to uphold the veto. Five votes are necessary to override a veto.

Wednesday, Maryland section

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