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In Baby Murder Trial, 2 Views of Mom

Accused of allowing the boy to ingest meth, Amy Prien of Riverside County is portrayed as a conscientious mother or a negligent addict.

August 27, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Amid emotional testimony Tuesday, prosecution and defense attorneys presented jurors with starkly divergent characterizations of a Perris woman on trial for allegedly killing her 3-month-old son.

From these perspectives, Amy Prien, 31, was either a loving mother or a negligent methamphetamine addict. Prien is charged with murdering her son in January 2002 by allowing him to ingest a lethal amount of meth, possibly through her breast milk.

She wiped away tears with her sleeve as defense witness Jack Haskins told jurors about his relationship with his late grandson, Jacob Wesley Smith.

"I deeply fell in love with Jacob; he was a wonderful baby," said Haskins, the boy's paternal grandfather. "I bonded with him instantly. He never cried. He laughed and smiled with me. He'd lay in my arms and he'd absolutely listen to me."

Stephen Yagman, Prien's attorney, also called Prien's former boss and one of her former Mead Valley neighbors to the stand. They told jurors they considered Prien a good mother who never showed signs of methamphetamine use.

"I can't imagine [Prien] hurting her child in any way," said Mark Eades, the former neighbor, who added that a murder conviction "would be wrong."

In her cross-examination, Riverside County supervising Deputy Dist. Atty. Allison Nelson confronted defense witnesses about Prien's drug use, asking Prien's former boss, Charles Bonner of Corona, "Do drug addicts make good parents?" and "Do good parents take the limited resources they have and spend them on drugs?"

Bonner said that, in Prien's case, it would not change his opinion that she is a conscientious mother.

Yagman's first defense witness was Denise Ferris, deputy county coroner. He questioned her about her signatures on three differing death certificates in the case.

The first certificate, issued the month the baby died, said the manner of death was pending, with such elements as toxicology results awaited. An amended certificate, dated April 4, 2002, labels the manner of death an "accident." The third certificate, dated July 15, 2002, says the manner of death was "homicide."

Asked why the change was made, Ferris described a policy change in the sheriff-coroner's office about such classifications, because there appeared to be neglect in the case. The new policy went into effect after April 4, thus the change in manner of death on the final certificate.

Outside court, Yagman said, "Our theory is the district attorney got them to change it."

During a jury break Tuesday, Judge W. Charles Morgan rejected a defense request to dismiss two misdemeanor charges against Prien for allegedly being under the influence of a controlled substance during the time of her son's death.

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