A Baltimore County midwife who delivered a stillborn child to a Sykesville couple last winter was found guilty yesterday of practicing midwifery without a license.
Circuit Court Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. found Karen Hunter, 34, of Glenarm guilty of the misdemeanor and suspended a six-month sentence.
Ms. Hunter was ordered to serve three years supervised probation and not to practice midwifery unless she becomes certified as a nurse-midwife.
Ms. Hunter and Sally Cromwell, her attorney, said they intend to appeal the decision.
"You were there for us, we'll be here for you," called Heather Davis of Eldersburg, one of more than 100 parents and children who cheered and applauded as Ms. Hunter left the Carroll County courthouse yesterday afternoon.
In a plea bargain, Ms. Hunter, a single mother of three, pleaded not guilty to charges that she practiced midwifery without a license when she delivered 10-pound, 2-ounce Jonathan Caleb Morgan last December.
In exchange for her agreement to a statement of facts that could convict her, the state's attorney's office agreed to drop the more serious charges of reckless endangerment.
Attorneys also recommended that Ms. Hunter receive a suspended sentence and be barred from practicing midwifery as a condition of her probation.
The statement of facts, read by Assistant State's Attorney Theresa Adams, said that Jonathan, the first child for Cynthia and Johnny Morgan, of Sykesville, was stillborn the morning of Dec. 19.
An autopsy showed that the child had died of an infection of the placenta up to 24 hours before he was born, Ms. Adams said.
Ms. Adams also said that medical experts would have testified that the infection could have been detected and the child's death could have been prevented.
"The way to change a law if you are unhappy with it is through the legislative process," Judge Beck told Ms. Hunter and nearly 90 of her supporters in the courtroom in finding her guilty.
"Until the state changes it, this is the state law and the court finds itself with no choice," Judge Beck said.
Meanwhile, many parents and their children -- most of whom had been delivered by lay midwives -- sat in the hallway in support of Ms. Hunter.
After the sentencing, people on both sides of the case said they felt Judge Beck's comments were encouraging to their view.
Those who support lay midwifery said they felt the judge was indicating that his hands were tied.
Prosecutors said he had acted to protect the rights of innocent children and the public at large.
"I feel like he was afraid to stand up and say what he felt," said Ms. Davis, whose two children were born at home. "I think he was forced to agree with the state's attorney."
However, Deputy State's Attorney Marcie S. Wogan said, "The true victim is Jonathan Caleb Morgan. This law is an effort to protect him and is in the best interests of the public. The law views this as a public safety issue."
Ms. Hunter's supporters argued that the central issue is a woman's right to choose how she will have her baby and the parents' right to care for a child in the way they see fit.
"This is a family issue," said Steve Fernandez of Frederick.
Two of his three children were delivered at home by Ms. Hunter, Mr. Fernandez said.
"Why shouldn't we be able to choose the health care we give our children?" he said.
In a similar case two months ago, supporters packed a Howard County courtroom in support of Judie Ray Pradier, 38, a midwife from Adelphi who was charged with practicing midwifery without a certificate.
She also was represented by Ms. Cromwell.
Ms. Pradier was greeted with cheers and hugs from the throng after Judge R. Russell Sadler dismissed the case because a prosecutor never asked witnesses to identify her as the midwife who had delivered a baby in Clarksville last October.