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D.A. Says Breast Milk Not Key in Boy's Death

May 16, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

The murder case against a Perris woman accused of killing her infant son does not hinge on the most sensational allegation -- that Amy Leanne Prien poisoned him with methamphetamine-tainted breast milk, the Riverside County prosecutor said Thursday.

Supervising Deputy Dist. Atty. Allison Nelson alleged that, in addition to being a meth user while breastfeeding her son, Prien neglected the child and stored the drug in plastic baby-bottle liners.

Her son, Jacob Wesley Smith, might have ingested the drug when he was bottle-fed with a methamphetamine-laced liner, Nelson said.

Prien appeared Thursday in Superior Court and pleaded not guilty to murder and three felony child endangerment charges. Trial is set for June 23.

Outside the courtroom, Nelson alleged that Prien's conduct showed a blatant disregard for her child, including her use of methamphetamine and inability to properly care for the boy.

"I don't know how the baby was fed methamphetamine, but he had it in his system when he died," Nelson said. The allegation of tainted breast milk "is not an element of the crime that's required for me to prove to convict her of murder. Whatever method was used to feed methamphetamine to Jacob, it was Amy Prien's responsibility, legally and morally, to ensure that that didn't happen."

Stephen Yagman, Prien's attorney, said Nelson's comments signaled a significant shift in the prosecution's strategy.

"Their case has always been about that [poisoning by breast milk] allegation, and if it's not about that now, then the whole case is bogus," Yagman said. "The breast milk claim has been their main charge. Remember, the case was filed with great fanfare and called landmark. The reason it was landmark was that their charge was based on the idea that a mother had committed infanticide by passing drugs to the child by breast milk. It sounds like the D.A. is disassembling the case and running for cover from the original charges."

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