Parents Who Co-Slept With Baby Shouldn't Be Charged With Murder

No parent wants to bury a child. No parent should have to. But for couple Trevor Merrill and Echo Nielsen, that nightmare has happened not once, but twice.

Their first child died in 2003, but now, after their second baby, 3-month-old Kayson, died in 2006, the couple has been fighting charges of "child abuse homicide" and "reckless endangerment." The Utah Court of Appeals has refused to dismiss these charges. The couple has been accused of murdering their baby while sleeping with his parents in their bed -- the same place their first child died as well.

The thing is, even in the brief description of the case I can find, there's plenty of other potential factors at fault here, especially when they can't prove it was co-sleeping.

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The parents were sleeping with the baby between them, which is one of those things that generally speaking, should be avoided while co-sleeping, especially when the babies are tiny. But many moms have ways of putting the baby's head and body against them, with their arm around them, so Dad can't roll onto the baby (and Mom can't roll like that either).

The baby boy was also found on his stomach, but the parents say he was put to sleep on his back. The prosecution argues that he was too young to roll over. My first child rolled at 14 days, and many parents find their child has rolled over at a very young age. Three months is more than old enough for a baby to roll.

Baby Kayson was ill and low birth weight, which has a known correlation with increased risk of SIDS. The defense attorneys rightfully claimed that these facts alone are enough to cast reasonable doubt as to the cause of death. The appeals court disagrees, however, saying Utah judges have previously allowed experts "relying on their training and knowledge to provide opinions that do not amount to medical certainty."

I'm a little confused. We have an ill, low birth-weight baby who could have very easily have rolled over on his own... but none of those things is good enough to create some doubt. And because it's happened in the past, it's OKAY to charge people with the death of their own child even when your own expert can't prove for a fact that the other obvious potential causes could be at fault?

Sigh.

Co-sleeping gets enough flack in this country that this kind of thing doesn't help one bit. American parents are demonized for doing something that is done more often than not in the rest of the world, but never taught how to do it safely. It's kind of like sex ed: Telling people to abstain doesn't do anything to prevent bad results. What does prevent future problems is comprehension education about how to do it safely -- even if you wish they weren't doing it in the first place.

It's a very slippery slope to charge these parents with murder when it's not even something they can prove, and especially ridiculous when we don't charge a parent for the death of a baby who was sitting on their lap in the front seat of a moving car so they could feed them french fries. What next? Charging parents for murder if they use a blanket and their baby dies of SIDS?

Do you think the parents should be charged?

 

Image via Joelk75/Flickr

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