We stand behind the recommendation of many organizations that breast is best for babies. Most of the time, this statement is true. There are, however, some situations in which breastfeeding should never occur. Such is the case in which a mother killed her infant by passing a lethal dose of methamphetamines through her breast milk.
Maggie Jean Wortman, 27, struggled with a meth addiction. It was her addiction that would ultimately cause the death of her five-week-old son, Michael Phillip Acosta III.
On the morning of November 21, 2010, little Michael was brought to a local hospital. He was not breathing, and according to Wortman’s probation report, he was already dead; he had died long before he ever arrived. Emergency medical personnel reported that he already had rigor mortis in his extremities when they arrived at Wortman’s trailer earlier that morning.
Little Michael’s autopsy revealed that he had died because of “methamphetamine toxicity.” Wortman admitted to smoking the drug “a couple of times a week” in the weeks leading up to little Michael’s death. And it is believed that the drugs that killed him were received through Wortman’s breast milk, as she was nursing him exclusively, despite her drug use and addiction.
The death of her son fueled a two month investigation. During that investigation, her 19-month-old daughter was also tested for methamphetamines via a hair follicle test. The hair tested positive, indicating that the child had been exposed to the drug within the last 90 days. Her daughter was then taken into child protective services and Wortman was arrested.
In the state of California’s case against her regarding the death of her son, Wortman plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. At the time of her plea, she was under the impression that she would be eligible to receive a grant of probation, but because voluntary manslaughter is considered a violent felony, she will be ineligible for probation.
Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Bruce Watson gave Wortman an opportunity to change her plea before she was officially sentenced. Wortman refused, however, and her attorney, M.C. Bruce, indicated that she “just wants to get this case over with.”
Because she chose to keep her plea the same, Wortman stands to spend the next six years in a state prison. Her attorney is trying to convince the courts to be lenient on her and send her to a drug treatment program instead of prison. He says that she is ready to deal with her addiction now. He says that she has been clean for a year now and has already made so much progress, no longer resembling the addict that was taken into custody thanks to the classes and psychiatric counseling she has been receiving while in jail.
“I am asking the court not to punish her because of her addictions,” Bruce said. “This leady has suffered the death of her child – that’s the most horrible thing any of us could ever suffer. No matter what this court does, that is something that is never going to go away for Maggie. If this court sends her to prison for six years, we’re going to lose her. We all know the prisons are full of drugs, and that’s a long time to sit with nothing to do…If we sentence her to prison for six years, we’re throwing her away.”
But Prosecuting Deputy District Attorney Ben McLaughlin says that Maggie’s case shouldn’t be handled any more lightly than the case of an alcoholic who causes a fatal accident because they chose to get behind the wheel of a car.
“We’re not punishing the addict,” McLaughlin stated. “What we’re doing here, your honor, is punishing the conduct.”
McLaughlin also says pointed out that Wortman is refusing to take full accountability for her actions. Even though Wortman plead guilty in the case, her probation report indicated that she felt she was innocent. She told a story very different from the autopsy report, saying that she was certain a friend had killed her baby early that morning.
Bruce admitted that Wortman still denies that she directly killed her son. She does, however, admit and accept that her drug addiction ultimately led to her son’s death.
In the end, Watson felt that a six year term was more than fair for her conduct.
“The probation report does state that she does not believe (her drug addiction) killed her child, when it categorically did. That, ma’am, is just a flat fact that is not contradicted in any way,” Watson stated, adding, “The victim – the baby – was five weeks old, and it is certainly hard to get beyond the vulnerability of such a young infant.”
There is so much I could say about this case, but I will only say the following:
While I believe, in my heart of hearts, that Wortman really did want what was best for her child, I also believe her judgment was clouded by her addiction. Yes, addiction is a choice, but it is not an easy change to make. Additionally, the very fact that Wortman tested positive for drug use in her sixth month of pregnancy and her daughter remained in her home and her child was sent home with her shows a failure in the system, not just her parenting.
As a clean woman, I have no doubt that she now fully understands the repercussions of her choices. Her denial of guilt is, quite likely, a mechanism to help her cope with the guilt and shame she feels. Her original denial may have also been fueled by the delusions that many meth addicts suffer from. Time will cause the consequence to only sink in further. I only hope that she can remain clean while serving her sentence and that others can find some compassion and understanding for this mother, despite the choices she made during her addiction.
Breastfeeding is reserved only for mothers that can do so safely. Alcohol and drugs can have a lethal effect on infants when it is passed through the breast milk. In these cases, formula is better. But what is even better than that is getting help for your addiction before it is too late.
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