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Plea Deal in Perris Mom Meth Case

Amy Prien agrees to a lesser charge and is sentenced in the death of her infant son, who prosecutors say was poisoned by breast milk.

September 19, 2006|Maeve Reston | Times Staff Writer

Amy Leanne Prien, a Perris mother and methamphetamine user accused of murdering her infant son with drug-laced breast milk, ended her long journey through the courts Monday by pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter in an agreement with prosecutors.

With her plea in Riverside County Superior Court, she avoided going to trial a third time in the death of her 3-month-old son, Jacob Wesley Smith.

In 2002 the Riverside County coroner found that the baby died of "acute methamphetamine intoxication," but defense lawyers and prosecutors sparred throughout two trials over whether the meth had come from Prien's breast milk, which was not tested at the time of her baby's death, or from the baby bottle liners Prien's attorneys say her roommate used to conceal and transport the drugs.

The first trial ended in September 2003 with her conviction for second-degree murder and four counts of felony child endangerment, but a state appeals court overturned the murder conviction two years later after finding that Judge W. Charles Morgan had erred in instructing the jury. The state's 4th District Court of Appeal also threw out the child endangerment convictions involving her other three children.

When Prien was tried for murder a second time this spring, the jury deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial.

On Monday, the mother was sentenced in two courtrooms. Morgan, the original trial judge, sentenced her to 10 years in prison on the earlier conviction for endangering Jacob's life. She also pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in another courtroom and was sentenced to four more years.

Prien's attorney, Stephen Yagman, said he expected her to be eligible for parole in 18 months because of time already served and good behavior.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Allison Nelson, the prosecutor in Prien's second trial, said Monday that the case -- aggressively pursued by the district attorney's office as part of an effort to shake the county's reputation as "the methamphetamine capital" -- has served as a deterrent to other women against using drugs with young children in the house.

"By pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter," Nelson said, "she admitted that she killed Jacob Smith. There was a public outcry against Amy Prien and her lifestyle.... I think the interests of justice have been served."

Yagman, on the other hand, described the result in court Monday as a victory for Prien.

"The second trial for her on charges of murder was a waste of time, money and judicial resources," he said. "The only people punished by that were the Riverside County taxpayers."

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

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