In the appeal lodged by a mother whose baby died after eating cocaine dropped from the family sofa, the Georgia Supreme Court has rejected an argument that there was insufficient evidence of a connection between the underlying drug charge and felony murder.
Justice Nels Peterson, writing for a unanimous court, ruled in the case of Stephanie Stephens that the “facts support the unmistakable conclusion” that 14-month-old Jewell Williams “ingested the deadly dose of cocaine after finding it in the place where [her parents] stored it to sell to others.”
Peterson quoted from the court’s opinion previously upholding the felony murder conviction of father and co-defendant Anthony Williams. “Accordingly, the evidence is sufficient to support Stephens’s conviction for felony murder arising out of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.”
In an opinion released Monday, the court upheld the life sentence for Stephens.
“Stephens was ultimately sentenced on only one count, felony murder predicated on possession of cocaine with intent to distribute,” Peterson said. He explained in a footnote that although she was convicted of several other drug and child cruelty charges, the sentences had been merged to life for the highest charge.
“She argues that the evidence was insufficient on that count because the State failed to prove a nexus between the underlying felony and her child’s death. We reject that argument, just as we rejected the same argument in the appeal of her co-defendant, with whom Stephens was tried jointly,” Peterson said.
Jewell died in the hospital of cocaine poisoning in the early morning hours of June 16, 2007. Emergency responders had taken her there after a 911 call to the family’s home, Peterson said.
“In Stephens’s house, an officer observed a crystalline substance on the floor near the sofa that appeared to be cocaine. A vacuum cleaner in the same room was seized as evidence, and testing later confirmed the presence of trace amounts of cocaine inside the vacuum cleaner bag.”
The parents told police the cocaine wasn’t theirs but had been left there accidentally by a visitor. But witnesses testified at the trial that they had regularly purchased crack cocaine from the couple and that it was stored in the sofa or in the mother’s purse, Peterson said.
Cherokee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Rosemary Greene prosecuted the case. Attorney General Chris Carr’s office participated in the appeal. They had no immediate response to a request for comment.
Stephens was represented on appeal by Summerville criminal defense attorney Steven Miller.
“The whole case was tragic,” Miller said Wednesday. “The little girl’s gone and she’s not coming back.”
The case is Stephens v. State, No. S18A0421.