Woman gets 8-year term in death of her infant

Lawyer says she used methadone to quiet girl

July 11, 2006|By JENNIFER MCMENAMIN | JENNIFER MCMENAMIN,SUN REPORTER

A Dundalk woman who says she gave her infant daughter methadone in an attempt to ease the baby's fussiness was sentenced to eight years in prison yesterday for causing the child's death.

Gina M. Camponeschi, 35, pleaded guilty in May to involuntary manslaughter, admitting that she was responsible for her daughter's death but without explaining how it happened. She also did not tell police during their investigation that she had given her baby, who was less than 2 months old, methadone that had been prescribed to treat her own heroin addiction.

But yesterday, at Camponeschi's sentencing in Baltimore County Circuit Court, defense attorney Robert J. Feldman provided a detailed account of Adriana Jean Richards' brief life and the events that led to her death Sept. 11.

Adriana was born addicted to heroin and cocaine because of Camponeschi's drug use during her pregnancy. The newborn spent her first 30 days in the hospital, where nurses used morphine and a diluted solution of opium to wean Adriana off her drug dependency, according to the defense attorney and court records. With the detoxification completed, the baby was discharged Aug. 19 into her mother's care.

Twenty-three days later, when Camponeschi awoke at 2 o'clock in the morning to hear her daughter crying, "this is where the tragedy happens," Feldman told the judge.

"Ms. Camponeschi's mindset was that this baby was suffering withdrawal from drugs," the defense attorney said. "She is an experienced user of recreational drugs and is familiar with withdrawal."

So Camponeschi got a bottle of methadone that she had been prescribed for her own drug addiction and gave Adriana "enough to coat the baby's tongue," Feldman said. She "believed she was doing the same thing she saw the nurses do in the hospital," Feldman said.

Camponeschi, who lived with her mother, then gave her daughter a bottle, changed her diaper and put her back to bed. "She thought everything was OK," the defense attorney said.

At 6 a.m., Camponeschi found her daughter pale, cold and not moving. Camponeschi's mother called 911, and the baby was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead less than an hour later.

In November, autopsy test results revealed that the baby died of methadone intoxication and the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. Camponeschi was charged with murder Nov. 17.

Her criminal record includes convictions for PCP distribution and possession in 1992, heroin possession in 2002 and prostitution in 2003, an offense that Feldman said was directly related to her drug addictions.

He spoke in court of Camponeschi's struggles with drugs and asked that the judge send her to treatment rather than prison.

Characterizing Camponeschi as an experienced drug user and calling treatment a "privilege," county prosecutor John Magee pointed out that the defendant had left treatment programs four times over the years without completing them.

"She was using drugs with Adriana in the womb. She was using drugs after Adriana died. She was using drugs right up to the day she was arrested in this case," he said. "If there's any greater wake-up call, I don't know what it is - the death of her own child at her own hand."

The prosecutor also criticized Camponeschi's failure to tell the paramedics the morning of her daughter's death that she had given Adriana methadone.

"It's all well and good to say it when you're facing a 10-year sentence," Magee said. "But when it may be able to help [the baby], the words aren't there."

In announcing his sentence, Judge Timothy J. Martin said he had to weigh Camponeschi's addictions with "a child who never got a chance to live."

He said he might be willing to modify the eight-year prison term in a year or more to send Camponeschi to drug treatment but that he couldn't do so yesterday.

"I don't mean to be melodramatic," the judge said, "but there's a little, tiny coffin buried somewhere with a little baby in it, and she's responsible."

jennifer.mcmenamin@baltsun.com

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