Maryland’s highest court dismissed the conviction of now 48-year-old Muriel Morrison last week, whose 4-month-old daughter died in a 2013 co-sleeping accident.
Before settling into bed with her daughter IIzaryah for the night, Morrison drank beer that evening and at some point — accidentally rolled over and suffocated her daughter while she slept.
The horrific incident happened on September 2, 2013. After getting a call about an unresponsive child, police arrived at the home at about 8:30 a.m. – WBAL reported at the time. Morrison discovered the infant cold and blue when she woke up at 7:45 a.m. according to court documents.
Morrison’s 4-year-old had woken up first and noticed how mom was asleep on top of her baby sister and attempted, unsuccessfully, to wake her up. And when she did wake up – she performed CPR. A roommate who lived with Morrison, Ilzaryah, and Morrison’s 4-year-old daughter revealed to the news station that the mom shared a bed with her children.
Prior to that tragic morning, Morrison drank beer during a virtual “moms’ night out” happy hour on Facebook. She then finished her drinks on the porch while her kids slept, changed IIzaryah’s diaper, pumped her breast milk, took out the trash, and locked the doors to her house before crawling into bed with her children — including the baby.
The next morning, she woke up to Ilzaryah listless and her lips blue. “She said, ‘I was drunk asleep and I rolled over on her,'” Morrison’s roommate at the time, Nikki, told WBAL.
“She came outside running down the street screaming that the baby was dead, so we called the ambulance twice,” family friend Joe Goodman said. He then called police while Morrison rushed outside in a panic. “She was a happy baby — always smiling when she got up in the morning,” Goodman said. According to court documents, The baby was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital but pronounced dead upon arrival.
The baby’s death was ruled a homicide by asphyxiation at the time, and the mother wasn’t initially arrested. Eventually, Morrison was charged and convicted of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and neglect of a minor, stemming from the death of her infant, according to a court of appeals document.
And in 2016 over a three-day trial, she explained to jurors what happened that night. Morrison testified that she drank two 12-ounce beers and about half of a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor during the happy hour with friends to celebrate the start of the new school year.
Her older daughter testified as well, she was 7 at the time of the trial, and informed the court that her mother rolled on top of her sister. She tried to wake Morrison who was in a “deep, deep sleep.” Prosecutors in the case used that testimony to claim that Morrison “pass[ed] out” and participated in co-sleeping, which is known for being dangerous.
The mom told the court that co-sleeping was a tradition in her family but the jury wasn’t sympathetic, and the mom received a 20-year prison sentence. However, her sentence was suspended by trial court and she was later put on probation.
The Maryland Court of Appeals threw out Morrison’s 20-year prison sentence last Thursday as the case was divided along gender lines. The majority of the votes to dismiss the sentence were from women on the court who ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that Morrison was “grossly negligent,” who also felt that they were not prepared to “criminalize co-sleeping.”
“Co-sleeping with a four-month old after consuming beer does not necessarily pose such an inherent risk of death or serious physical harm,” Judge Michele D. Hotten wrote in her judgment along with Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera and Judges Shirley M. Watts and Brynja M. Booth.
Hotten also noted how Morrison’s conviction “would potentially have a disparate effect on women in general, and indeed women of color and women of limited socioeconomic means….certainly, anyone who co-slept with a baby under circumstances similar to those, in this case, would be at risk for conviction on insufficient evidence in any jurisdiction in the State,” she continued.
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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