September 01, 2010
Drug use linked to death of baby
A Blacksburg woman said she took drugs before falling asleep in bed with her daughter.
A Montgomery County prosecutor said Tuesday that a Blacksburg woman's drug use and the death of her baby were linked, though he didn't know exactly how to "connect the dots" between them.
Carole Browning, 36, pleaded guilty in May to felony child abuse/neglect and was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in prison, with all but five months suspended.
Browning's 6-week-old daughter, Caitlyn Browning, died July 10, 2009.
A medical examiner ruled that her cause of death was sudden infant death syndrome associated with co-sleeping, Montgomery County Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Dean Manor said.
The day and night before Caitlyn died, her mother smoked marijuana and took several drugs, including Adderall, Klonopin, Remeron and liquid methadone.
Browning testified in Montgomery County Circuit Court that she hadn't slept in five days and four nights and took what Manor called "a pharmaceutical cocktail" to get some rest.
She awoke about 4 a.m. and took Caitlyn out of her crib to feed her, then put Caitlyn in bed with herself and two of her other children.
It is likely, she admitted in court, that she rolled over on the baby and wouldn't have been able to respond to any signs of distress because of her drug use.
"I was not thinking clearly," Browning testified. If she hadn't taken the drugs, she said, "things would be different. She would be here more than likely."
At the time, Browning was under a safety plan with the Montgomery County Department of Social Services, which had advised her not to use drugs while caring for her five children, including Caitlyn.
The plan was put into place after Caitlyn's meconium tested positive for marijuana, Harmony Alley with Child Protective Services testified.
Browning was charged a week after Caitlyn's death.
Her other children, who are 4, 6, 7 and 16, were sent to live with her mother in Georgia until December, when they were placed back with Browning.
At the time, however, they were returned to her under a protective order. Browning's boyfriend, Michael Quesenberry, was ordered to have no contact with the children because it was discovered that marijuana was growing in his home, Alley testified.
Browning said Tuesday that Quesenberry has had no contact with the children, but that she is now engaged to marry him.
She testified that Quesenberry stopped using illegal substances at the same time she did, in late August 2009.
Asked by her attorney, I.D. Caudill, how she has changed since Caitlyn's death, Browning said she keeps herself busy during the day with sewing, cleaning and her cats.
She is seeking employment, having repairs done to her home, has taken parenting classes and is continuing to participate in mental health counseling.
"I hope I can continue raising the children that I have," she testified. "I do not plan on ever making a bad choice for them."
Caitlyn's aunt, Vicky Belcher, asked the court for an extended term of probation for Browning as well as continued monitoring by the Department of Social Services to help protect the other children.
Belcher's brother, Carlos Browning, who died in a vehicle crash in October 2008, was Caitlyn's father and Carole Browning's estranged husband. He didn't know she was pregnant.
"He never knew baby Caitlyn and now neither will his family," Belcher read aloud from a victim impact statement. "She has not expressed remorse to my family for her actions on that night."
"This was a very tragic incident that happened on that night" that should have and likely could have been avoided, Circuit Court Judge Bobby Turk said.
He said he thought the safety plan Browning had been placed under "wasn't even thought about" and that she should serve some jail time. After her release, she will spend five years on supervised probation.
Turk said he didn't think he could punish her more "than what you're going to go through," knowing the role she played in her baby's death.