Woman convicted in child's death failing treatment

December 03, 2008|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

Vernice Harris, a Baltimore woman convicted of manslaughter in the methadone poisoning of her 2-year-old daughter Bryanna, is failing the drug and alcohol treatment program that she was ordered to complete as part of her probation.

A status hearing planned for yesterday morning in Baltimore Circuit Court was canceled, but attorneys are preparing for a probation hearing next month. Harris, 31, has been held at the Baltimore Women's Detention Center for several weeks and will remain there until the hearing.

Harris entered Second Genesis, a residential treatment program in Crownsville, in late September. By early November, program officials had recommended that she be removed because she had tested positive for alcohol and broken other rules, according to a Second Genesis memo obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

Harris' attorney, Maureen Rowland, said she will argue at the probation hearing that her client should be given another chance. Prosecutors said they will speak with Second Genesis workers before deciding whether to ask that Harris' probation be revoked.

In August, Judge Timothy J. Doory sentenced Harris to 10 years in prison but suspended the term and placed her on five years' probation. He committed her to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and ordered that she complete a residential substance abuse treatment program. Harris said in an interview this year with The Sun that she has a longtime crack cocaine habit, a history of suicide attempts and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Years before the birth of Bryanna, Harris relinquished custody of two daughters because she felt unable to care for them. Despite Harris' history, Bryanna remained in her care.

The toddler died in June 2007 of methadone poisoning. Detectives wrote in charging documents that Bryanna was killed during a drug party at Harris' rowhouse on 25th Street. Detectives alleged that Harris gave Bryanna methadone to keep her quiet, but Rowland contended that someone else was at fault.

Last summer, Harris seemed eager to begin treatment. She complained at a hearing in July that her case was not moving quickly enough. She told Doory that she was "confused and frustrated."

"I'm tired of sitting and waiting," she said. "It's, like, holding me back."

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