Pa. woman charged in baby’s death

Faced sim­i­lar case here in 2011

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By CARL HAMIL­TON

ca­hamil­ton@ce­cil­whig.com

— 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.

HARPER

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