Woman defends actions in child's fatal overdose

The Baltimore Sun

A Harford County woman being tried on manslaughter charges for mistakenly giving a 16-month-old boy a child's cup containing methadone testified yesterday that she did not call for help because she thought the toddler had spit out most of the drug.

Elaine Marie Butler, 54, who took the stand in Harford County Circuit Court for the first time, is being retried on charges of manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the death of Ashton Timothy Preston, who died of a methadone overdose in December 2004. A jury deadlocked on the manslaughter charge against Butler, a registered nurse, in March 2006.

The child and his mother, Kelley Jean Briggs, met Butler and her husband, Frank, through the couple's church. Briggs, who was taking methadone to treat a heroin addiction, and her son frequently stayed at the Butlers' home in Darlington because her trailer in Havre de Grace lacked adequate heat.

On the night of the incident, Elaine Butler pulled from the cupboard a Mickey Mouse "sippy" cup containing red liquid and gave it to the toddler, thinking it was fruit juice.

"He took it up to his mouth to take a sip," she said yesterday during questioning by her attorney, Will Abercrombie. "He spit it out and poured it on the floor."

Frank Butler and Briggs told Butler that the cup had contained methadone.

"We decided to watch him because neither of us thought he ingested much," said Butler. When Ashton became sleepy, Butler said, she thought it was because he had not taken a nap that day. The infant died in his sleep.

On cross-examination, Assistant State's Attorney Salvatore Fili said Butler was "grossly negligent" and pointed out that the Butlers lived yards away from the Darlington Volunteer Fire Company.

Closing arguments are expected today, after which the case will go to the jury.

Last year, Briggs pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and received a sentence of five years in prison.


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