An appeal court overturned a conviction of a woman accused of involuntary manslaughter of her baby. Emily Usnick, a forty-three years old woman from central Missouri, gave birth alone at home alone and did not seek medical attention before her baby who she named Hannah died.
The Circuit Court of Johnson County convicted Emily Usnick of first-degree involuntary manslaughter following a jury trial. Usnick who had been originally charged with second-degree murder but was later convicted with first-degree involuntary manslaughter, second-degree child endangerment, and possession of a controlled substance in the death of her baby in July 2017. The prosecutors contended that she was guilty because of giving birth unattended, did not seek medical care attention after giving birth and putting the body in a plastic bag. At the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Usnick had sent text messages the evening of the birth and that there was an ambulance substation located three-quarters mile away. As charged, the state court argued that Usnick had recklessly caused the death of her baby by failing to seek medical assistance following the childbirth and enclosing the dead body of the child in a plastic bag and container.
In 2009, the body of the baby was found in a plastic bag inside the car track during a drug raid at the home of Usnick in St. Elizabeth by investigating officers. The decomposing body was found two weeks after it had been dumped in the car. Investigators found large amounts of methamphetamine in Usnick’s house which she admitted that she ha been smoking marijuana and methamphetamine the night before giving birth. Usnick was not charged in connection to the death of the baby until February 2012. An autopsy done on the body of the baby revealed that the infant girl a lethal dose of methamphetamine in her liver and blood. The autopsy was not specific whether the death of the baby was caused by methamphetamine or she drowned. Hannah died due to lack of oxygen. During the final ruling, the court sentenced Usnick to five years in the department of corrections.in a separate trial, the court sentenced her five years for possession of controlled drugs to be served concurrently with her manslaughter charge.
The Missouri western district court of appeals on Tuesday overturned the conviction of Emily Usnick following a unanimous report written by judge Gary Witt. According to the report, Witt stated that the state did not give sufficient evidence to prove that Usnick acted with criminal intent or recklessly when her baby died and should not have been convicted of involuntary manslaughter. According to Witt, experts were not able to determine the clear cause of the death of the baby within a reasonable degree of medical certainty. With this, it is impossible for a lay juror to make the right determination that the cause of death was because of a criminal act as opposed to natural causes. The fate of the case depended on the rare question of whether giving birth without seeking medical care might be a basis of a crime. About this, Usnick contends that the state has no duty imposed on expectant mothers to ensure they have a medically attended birth or otherwise face criminal prosecution and the state does not contest. On a statement given to detectives, Usnick said that she planned to give the baby for adoption. She said that she was so beautiful and it was unfortunate that things had turned to the worst. Usnick believes that it is possible that baby Hannah drowned or suffocated while submerged in the water.
In the case facts statement, Witt wrote that Usnick was alone when her water broke and she delivered the baby girl into a toilet. Usnick told the investigators that after she delivered, it took her several minutes before she recovered from the shock and picked the baby. In her statement to investigators, Usnick said that she was terrified because the baby was not breathing or moving. Eventually, she took the body of the baby and put it in a plastic bag and put it inside the car trunk. The autopsy concluded that the baby was alive when it was born, but the prosecutors did not argue on the basis that Usnick had drowned the baby.
In the appeal conviction, Judge Witt stated that Usnick did not seek medical attention because her car was broken down. She also did not have cellphone minutes to call for help, and even if she had minutes, her house had inconsistent cell service. In an email on Tuesday to the newspaper, Phillip Zeeck, one of the attorneys of Usnick, stated their defense argument in the court briefs. The brief states that Emily did not recklessly have an unattended birth. It was not her will to go into Labour when no one else was at home. This does not criminalize the act of having unattended birth. Appeal on Tuesday stated that the state of Missouri could not convict a person on an offense based solely on an omission to perform an act unless there is a law defining the offense expressly or a duty to perform the omitted act is imposed by the law. With this, the fact that Usnick had a medically unattended delivery cannot qualify as criminal prosecution in terms of the law. The state court of appeal also failed to prove that the death of the baby was a result of unnatural causes.
The appeal court concluded that they had reversed Emily Usnick’s appeal criminal case conviction of first-degree involuntary manslaughter. Emily Usnick had been handed a sentence of five years in prison for conviction of involuntary manslaughter and a concurrent five-year sentence for drug possession conviction. She did not appeal drug conviction and is still in the Missouri Department of Corrections facility prison in Chillicothe. The appeal was handled by the state attorney general office. The office declined to give a response to the request of commenting about the overturned conviction. The county prosecutor’s office Miller County said that it was reviewing the decision of the court.
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