|Mother is charged in stillborn son's death |
Melissa Ann Rowland
By Pamela Manson
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake County prosecutors on Thursday charged a West
Jordan woman with criminal homicide in the death of her stillborn baby.
Prosecutors claim the woman ignored repeated warnings in the last few
weeks of pregnancy that the twins she was carrying could die or suffer
brain damage unless she had an immediate Caesarean section.
Melissa Ann Rowland, 28, had refused medical
treatment, saying she would rather die than go to either of the two
recommended hospitals, and that being cut "from breast bone to pubic bone"
would ruin her life, the county District Attorney's Office alleges in a
probable-cause statement filed in 3rd District Court.
Rowland, also known as Melissa Hrosik, faces up to
life in prison if convicted of the first-degree felony. Her attorney,
Michael Sikora, said she has been in jail since shortly after giving birth
in mid-January on a child endangerment charge involving the surviving
twin, a girl who has been adopted.
Sikora, a public
defender, said Rowland has a long history of mental illness and was first
committed to a hospital at age 12.
What makes the
prosecution's case extraordinary is it presumes the state can second-guess
an expectant mother's choice on major medical care.
"This is nothing if not a very novel legal theory," Sikora said. "If it
prevails, it raises questions about what a mother can or cannot do with
respect to the safety of her unborn child. If a doctor says this will be a
very difficult pregnancy and you should get complete bed rest for the last
three months and the mother doesn't and the baby is stillborn, is she
guilty of murder? If she smokes, is it murder? If she doesn't eat right,
is it murder?"
But Kent Morgan, deputy Salt Lake
County prosecutor and a spokesman for District Attorney David Yocom, said
Rowland's crime stems from the depraved indifference and utter callousness
she showed toward her unborn twins.
"It's not just
the conduct, it's the knowledge, the state of mind," he said.
The probable cause
statement claims that Rowland was told numerous times from Dec. 25, 2003,
to Jan. 9, 2004, that her twins faced life-threatening conditions and
could die unless she pursued immediate medical attention.
Rowland told a nurse at LDS Hospital on Christmas
Day that she had not felt the babies move. The nurse recommended that
Rowland go at once to either Jordan Valley or Pioneer Valley Hospital,
according to the probable-cause statement. But it says the nurse said
Rowland told her "she would rather have both of her babies die before she
went to either of those hospitals."
obstetrician-gynecologist who saw Rowland at LDS Hospital on Jan. 2
recommended an immediate Caesarean section because of problems with the
fetal heart rate and an ultrasound that indicated low amniotic fluid, the
statement says. However, Rowland left after signing a statement indicating
that she understood that leaving the hospital could result in death or
significant brain injury to the babies, according to the statement.
Later the same day, Rowland showed up at Salt Lake
Regional Hospital and told a nurse that she left LDS Hospital because a
doctor there wanted to cut her "from breast bone to pubic bone" and this
would "ruin her life," according to court records. In addition, she
allegedly told the nurse that she would rather "lose one of the babies
than be cut like that."
On Jan. 9, Rowland went to
Pioneer Valley Hospital, the statement says. A nurse was unable to verify
a fetal heart rate on one of the twins and told Rowland that she should
remain for monitoring, but Rowland left anyway.
Sikora said child protection authorities were told of the situation when
Rowland was still pregnant, but took no action.
have not been granted authority to intervene in the life of an unborn
child," said Carol Sisco, a spokeswoman for the Division of Child and
Family Services. "We don't have jurisdictional authority."
The only agency with authority would have been a
hospital, who could have petitioned to have a guardian appointed for the
child. That guardian could have then petitioned a judge to force the
medical procedure on Rowland.
A nurse who assisted
in delivery of the twins at Pioneer Valley Hospital in West Valley City
told investigators that Rowland arrived in labor on Jan. 13. A hospital
staff member told Rowland that one of the babies was dead and the other
was in distress, the nurse said.
She said Rowland
resisted the recommendation that she deliver by C-section and insisted on
going outside to smoke before eventually giving her consent for the
operation. The boy was stillborn and the girl was in respiratory distress,
the nurse said. A doctor reported that the girl also tested positive for
cocaine and alcohol in her blood.
Edward Leis of
the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner, who performed an autopsy on the
boy, said the unborn child died two days before his sister was born "and
further stated that if the defendant had delivered Baby Boy Rowland when
her doctors had urged her to, the baby would have survived," the probable
cause statement says.
Rowland was booked into jail
on Jan. 14 -- just one day after delivering her twins -- on an
endangerment charge for allegedly taking drugs that harmed Hannah, the
girl. Bail for that count was set at $50,000. For the homicide charge,
bail was set at $250,000.
The charges are another
sad event in a life marked with mental problems, Sikora said.
He said Rowland, herself a twin, was born to a
mentally retarded mother. She was placed in foster care almost immediately
and adopted before her first birthday. Her twin brother had serious
medical problems and died when he was 7, Sikora said.
Rowland was committed to a Pennsylvania mental
hospital when she was 12, weighing almost 200 pounds, and diagnosed with
"oppositional defiant disorder," Sikora said. The American Academy of
Child & Adolescent Psychiatry defines the condition as an ongoing
pattern of uncooperative, defiant and hostile behavior toward authority
figures that seriously interferes with day-to-day functioning.
His client was hospitalized in a mental facility at
least one other time and told him she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder,
Sikora said. The defense attorney is waiting for records to confirm that.
Rowland's statements to doctors and nurses, says
Vicki Cottrell, the executive director of the Utah chapter of the National
Alliance for the Mentally Ill, seem to confirm a mental illness.
"All I can say is there's no question this is not
rational thinking," Cottrell said. "There are so many things going on in a
[mentally ill] person's mind, it really is not clearly black-and-white
Rowland moved to Utah with a
boyfriend and is either divorced or estranged from her husband, Sikora
said. Court records show she was living on Social Security disability
benefits and that managers of her apartment complex began eviction
proceedings in late January after her arrest.
is major surgery," Sikora said of the Caesarian. "It would come as no
surprise that a woman with major mental illness would fear it."
But Morgan said a determination of her mental state
will have to be made during criminal proceedings and nothing has been
"What we're trying to send is the
message that someone has to stand up for a child who could have been
alive," he said.
Tribune reporter Jacob Santini contributed to this story.
* Melissa Ann Rowland could face up to life in
prison if convicted of first-degree homicide for killing her unborn baby.