”But to charge a grieving mother for murder, for making a mistake that millions of other mothers make every night, seems like a terrifying overreach.”
A mother was charged with murder after her baby accidentally died while sleeping on his stomach.
After a jarring return to work and some prodding from our famously eager pediatrician, my husband and I have started “cry-it-out” with our 4-month-old son—a brutal, if necessary, method where exhausted parents train their babies to sleep by ignoring their cries. Last night, after our baby cried, then quieted himself several times during a 10-hour stretch, I came to fetch him for a morning feed and felt my throat fall into my stomach.
My baby had wiggled during the night and the fancy swaddle I used to wrap his arms tightly at 7 p.m. was now resting around his neck. My mind flashed with the threat I know loose bedding to be: suffocation, strangulation, death. His eyes peeked out at me through his nearly covered face.
Five years ago, in the middle of another sleepless stretch with my first son, my parenting fail was by choice. I looked at my 2-month old baby, strong enough to bust himself loose out of my swaddles yet still unable to control the tremors in his hands or the reflex that made him feel like he was falling all the time. And so, I decided to join the number of parents who hide a dark secret: I turned my baby on his belly and let him sleep, which he did, for hours longer than he ever had before.
I revisited these and dozens of other errors I’ve made as a parent this morning—because around the same time I was imagining what might have happened had I not picked up my new baby when I did, The Washington Post reported another mother in Virginia had been charged with murder and child neglect for a mistake that led to the death of her son, Jahari.
Candice Semidey, 25 years old at the time, was a new mother to a 4-month-old. She fed him, swaddled him, then lay him belly-down on a makeshift bed she fashioned out of a chair cushion and a blanket, according to the Prince William County Police public information officer, Sergeant Jonathan Perok. Semidey went to sleep, but when she woke her baby was dead. And according to the Prince William County prosecutor, placing Jahari on his stomach to sleep this way was so negligent it was murder.
Jahari’s death was unintentional, Perok told The Daily Beast. His mother wasn’t under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. Nothing else about her home concerned police or made them think the baby had otherwise been neglected, Perok said.
“These actions, however unintentional, were still deemed neglectful in accordance with the code section for felony murder which states, ‘The killing of one accidentally, contrary to the intention of the parties, while in the prosecution of some felonious act,’” Perok wrote in an email. “The underlying felonious act in this case was the felony child neglect.”
In the criminal complaint, the lead detective wrote that Semidey had acted in a manner “that was so gross, wanton, and culpable” that it showed “a reckless disregard for human life.” The charging documents noted that she had received proper guidance on how to put her son to sleep after his birth.
Semidey pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and child neglect In July of 2015, and was given a suspended sentence of five years. She’ll stay out of prison if she completes a three-year supervised probation.
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