Pa. woman charged in baby’s death
Faced similar case here in 2011
— A former Cecil County resident is facing criminal homicide charges in Pennsylvania in the asphyxiation death of her 2-month-old son — five years after she was sentenced to 85 days in jail because her baby had died inside her Elkton-area home due to her inattentiveness.
The suspect, Jessica Marie Harper, 28, is charged with criminal homicide, involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child, according to the Lancaster County (Pa.) District Attorney’s Office.
Harper remained jailed without bond in the Lancaster County Prison on
PEACH BOTTOM, PA.
Friday, a day after Pennsylvania State Police investigators filed the criminal charges against Harper and arrested her at her Peach Bottom home, prosecutors reported.
Harper’s 2-month-old son, identified only as H.K., died of suffocation on July 12 after Harper had slept with the infant in bed inside her residence, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors allege that Harper’s “reckless indifference” led to her baby’s death because Harper continued to sleep with her infant son — despite having received repeated warnings from medical professionals about sleeping with a newborn and, by order of social workers, having watched at least one safety video on the subject.
Moreover, according to prosecutors, a pediatri- cian had cautioned Harper concerning the dangers of sleeping beside an infant, and she openly defied the warning.
That warning came on July 6 — six days before Harper’s baby died of cosleeping-related suffocation — and Harper responded to the pediatrician’s advice by saying she was “going to do it anyway,” according to the LCDAO, relaying what PSP Trooper Linda Gerow, lead investigator, wrote in her report.
Also in the investigator’s report, Gerow wrote that Harper demonstrated an “extreme indifference to the value of human life” by ignoring the repeated warnings of several doctors, prosecutors reported.
Harper has five other children with multiple fathers, prosecutors said, adding that social services case- workers are now involved in the care of those children.
The Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office released a written statement about the criminal case against Harper on Thursday. On Friday, Lancaster County District Attorney Craig W. Stedman could not reached for additional comment.
This marks the second time that Harper has faced criminal charges in connection with the death of one of her infant children.
Five years ago, Cecil County Sheriff’s Office detectives charged Harper, then 23, with involuntary manslaughter, first-degree child abuse resulting in death and other offenses after her 2-monthold baby boy — Nicholas Robert Harper — died after he was found unresponsive in Harper’s residence in the 400 block of Willow Drive in the Winding Brook neighborhood near Elkton on Jan. 19, 2011.
In that case, investigators alleged that Harper had placed her baby in an “unsafe sleeping position” on the couch, before she left the infant unattended for several hours, according to Cecil County Circuit Court records, which indicate that investigators also surmised that, at some point, the baby had turned and suffocated.
Harper told CCSO investigators that she put the infant on the downstairs couch about 9:30 p.m. Jan. 18 and placed a blanket over him, before going upstairs with the intention of cleaning her bedroom, police reported at the time.
Instead, however, she sat on the bed and started texting her friends, police added.
Harper acknowledged she didn’t check on her baby until about 1 a.m. Jan. 19, more than three hours later, when she discovered that her baby was blue and unresponsive, police reported.
In May 2011, Retired Circuit Court Judge Maurice J. Baldwin imposed a threeyear sentence on Harper and then suspended all but time she already had served in jail — 85 days — after she had pleaded guilty to an amended charge, contributing to the conditions that caused a child to be in need of assistance.
Prosecutors offered the plea bargain after learning that state medical examiners had ruled the baby’s death accidental, Assistant State’s Attorney Kevin B. Urick reported at the time, according to Whig archives.
“Last week, I obtained the official autopsy findings from the State Medical Examiner’s Office (in Baltimore). Medical examiners determined that the baby died from asphyxia, which is suffocation, and ruled that the baby’s death was accidental,” Urick explained at that time.
Prosecutors maintained that Harper engaged in a “pattern of neglect,” based on the autopsy revealing that the baby had “mild to moderate diaper rash” and witnesses giving accounts of Harper leaving the baby unattended for long periods in the weeks before the incident, Urick said.
However, he added, Harper’s neglect could not be directly linked to the baby’s death.
“There was neglect but, based on the official autopsy findings, there is insufficient evidence to substantiate the more serious child abuse charges. The neglect was criminal, but it did not rise to the level of extreme or reckless neglect,” Urick said at the time.
As part of her May 2011 sentence in that Cecil County criminal case, the judge placed Harper on three years of supervised probation and listed undergoing a psychiatric evaluation as one of the conditions.