COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA VS. SAMANTHA WHITNEY JONES, A PORTRAIT OF AN ABUSIVE PROSECUTOR AND COMPLICIT JUDICIARY
Bucks County criminal courts are making history, and not in a good way.
A recovering opioid addict and new mother, Samantha Whitney Jones, was never advised by her by her prescribing or treating physicians not to breast feed her baby. All of them knew her medical history, all of them knew her prescriptions, and not a single one of her treating doctors instructed her not to breast feed her baby. So on the morning of her baby’s death, Samantha breast fed her baby that morning as usual. When she was finished placed the baby in a bassinet, waited to ensure the baby was peacefully asleep, and then went back to bed herself.
She woke up just hours later and found her baby dead.
Bucks County Prosecutor Matthew Weintraub has since gotten a hold of the case and turned it into a self-promoting media circus. Without any science or any affirmative coroners report, he charged the grieving and distraught mother, Samantha Whitney Jones, with homicide and as many other felonies as he possibly could. He then took to the news and called her a baby killer.
Shortly after a local Bucks County Judge (an known Weintraub supporter) affirmed the aggressively excessive charges, and the case is likely to head to trial. The physicians treating Jones reacted with dropped jaws and shock, the medical community reeled in confusion. This charge was first of it’s kind, and in charging Jones, Weintraub also seems to be launching some pathologically aggressive attack against the medical community, by undermining years and years of science. Doctors have (almost always under most circumstances) recommended that recovering heroin/opioid addicts on methadone) breast feed their baby, so as long as they remained clean on the drugs as they prescribed, taken as prescribed. Science has confirmed that was safe.
Overnight, it seems Matt Weintraub acquired a medical degree, and his new medical expertise exceeds the medical opinion that has been persistent and prevalent for two decades since methadone became a mainstream treatment for opioid addiction.
Be alarmed at the arrogance: This is the first case in Pennsylvania of this nature. Baby deaths are extremely rare as a result of women on methadone breast feeding. In fact the National Health Institute has documented NONE that I could find. Despite the facts and dissenting opinion of the medical community, Weintraub has made a lot of incendiary quotes in the press and has not shied away from the media attention, in which has been international. Weintraub appears to be loving the attention.
This case is big news for him, and he has not shied away from using the case to promote himself.
WHAT THE MEDICAL EXPERTS SAY ABOUT BREAST FEEDING ON METHADONE, AND WHY PEDIATRICIANS ARE ANGRY ABOUT THIS CASE AGAINST SAMANTHA
Despite Weintraub suddenly becoming an overnight medical expert and deciding breast feeding while on prescribed doses of methadone is “murder,” the real experts have always disagreed. In fact, most expert medical opinion supports that woman can and should breastfeed, despite while being on the prescribed drug methadone. I’ve cited some example below:
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for nearly two decades deemed methadone compatible with breastfeeding.
- Seeking to reassure methadone-dependent women and the clinicians who care for them that it is safe for mothers taking methadone to breastfeed, researchers at John Hopkins University in 2008 investigated the effect of methadone on breastfeeding infants. Two groups of women undergoing methadone treatment for drug addiction were included in the study—one group breastfed and the other formula-fed. Throughout the course of a month, researchers measured the methadone concentrations in samples of breast milk and maternal and infant blood. (Urine testing was performed pre- and post birth to confirm that the participants were not using illicit drugs during the study period.) The results revealed low (21–362 ng/mL) concentrations of methadone in breast milk. The concentrations of methadone in maternal blood were similar in both the breastfeeding and formula-feeding groups and were not related to maternal dose. Concentrations of methadone in infant blood were quite low (2.2–8.1 ng/mL) in both groups of infants. Most importantly, there was no difference in neurobehavioral outcomes between the two groups.
- A study published in the December 2011 issue of Breastfeeding Medicine provided further evidence that methadone dose need not be a factor in determining whether methadone-dependent women can safely breastfeed. Blood tests revealed that breastfed infants, even those born to mothers taking 200 mg of methadone daily, received a minuscule amount of methadone that was well below the 0.3-0.6 mg dose given every 12 hours to treat neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), i.e. withdrawal symptoms in newborns.
- Experts agree that methadone-dependent women, those who are under a physician’s care and drug-free, can safely breastfeed. A review of available studies published in July 2016 finds that breastfeeding by methadone-treated mothers and rooming-in can reduce NAS. This finding supports a 2009 study of methadone-exposed newborns in which the likelihood of a baby needing treatment for NAS was reduced by 50 percent in babies who breastfed for more than three days.
According to WHYY, the charges against Samantha Whitney Jones have made a numerous medical experts apprehensive, many who have issued opinions stating that the benefits of breast feeding on methadone far exceed the damages not breast feeding at all.CITATION Experts express concern that women in recovery will no longer breast feed for fear of what appears to be one fluke, freak, accident.
According to the PDAA: Jones’ case is thought to be the first time a nursing mother faced homicide charges after breastfeeding, according to the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. CITATION
THE CASE OF SAMANTHA JONES IS AN EXPANSION OF THE ALREADY ABUSIVELY EXPANSIVE (AND INEFFECTIVE) WAR AGAINST DRUGS BY “TOUGH ON CRIME” PROSECUTORS
In era of the opioid crisis, we have seen the ongoing trend of power-hungry criminal courts continuously attempting to expand, or attempting to “stretch,” the existing laws in place. The laws are loosely enough written that they can twist and manipulate the words of the law in order to turn a non-criminal act into a potentially criminal one. The courts, particularly in Pennsylvania, have a long history of slowly withering away or manipulating the laws. Pennsylvania has an unprecedentedly high number of incarcerated people in juxtaposition to most states in the country, and the lack of recall, lack of consequences and lack of kick-back allows these abuses to continue.
Let me give you an example that is more clear: For two decades, we have been seeing the courts removing the element of personal responsibility when addicts die of an overdose, and more and more “homicide” charges being leveraged against “dealers.” Yet the definition of a “dealer” has not been clearly ironed out in existing laws, and many addicts who provided drugs resulting in an overdose are being charged as “dealers”, when in all actuality they are addicts who do not profit off of dealing drugs, nor run any sort of widespread drug dealing operations.
Recently in Blair County, for example, we saw a 70-person drug bust of “dealers” by the Attorney General’s office. However, jury trials in Blair County are rejecting the arguments of prosecutors and refusing to enter in convictions in a large number of the cases that go to trial. Moreover, we are seeing a larger and larger number of prosecutors who launch campaigns to capitalize on being tough on drug-related crimes; however, 45 years of statistics reveal that the “jail your way out of the drug epidemic” has proven ineffective. In fact, the number of opioid fatalities is continously on the rise from year to year, despite overzealous prosecutors attempting to charge drug dealers with “homicide” and their attempts to jail their way out of the opioid epidemic. Josh Shapiro knows that busting “drug dealers” during an opioid crisis makes him big news, and he likes to capitalize on that, regardless as if what he is doing is actually effective – which historically, it hasn’t been for two decades since Reagan declared the “war on drugs” (and since the Clintons made the “three-strikes” legislation).
The Bucks County D.A. defends his case. Weintraub, in defending his stance, has gotten a lot of media attention. He never addresses the science, because there is very little science in the Samantha Whitney Jones. Instead, he states: “It was not our objective to try and blaze a trail here,” said Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub. “But we need to make sure that all of our citizens, especially our youngest and most vulnerable, the little babies, are protected.” CITATION
But by being the first county court system in the state to charge a breastfeeding mother with “homicide,” Weintraub IS BLAZING A TRAIL. (And he knows this, but he likes the press and it’s almost election season). Furthermore his absurd, non-scientific-based, pathos/emotionally-infused rhetoric “We have to protect the little babies,” neglects to address the facts that Samantha Whitney Jones thought that she was protecting her baby, as no physician had ever advised her of the dangers of not breast feeding while pregnant.
Regardless of how Weintraub wants to “spin” or manipulate the truth: This is clearly an attempt to “trail blaze.” And it is a shameless and flagrant attempt by the prosecutor to “spin” the truth in order “win” a conviction and failing in every way to address the address the shock and outrage of the medical community. And yes, the medical community is deeply concerned and alarmed over these charges, and many medical experts opine that the actions of the Bucks County Courts will dissuade mothers from breast feeding if they are taking the prescribed medication methadone, and are under no medical advice not to breast feed. Weintraub goes so far as to defiantly assert (against medical opinion) that: Those events, said Weintraub, amount to criminal homicide, a killing committed “intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or negligently,” according to Pennsylvania law. CITATION
Also according to WHYY: Here is where public health experts enter the picture. Methadone and other addiction medications treating the symptoms of opioid withdrawal are perfectly safe to take while breastfeeding, according to rigorous studies and professional recommendations of organizations such as the National Institutes of Health.
Yet somehow Attorney Weintraub somehow thinks his expertise supersedes that of the medical experts, which is pure arrogance. I think that it is what is most offensive and alarming to the medical experts who have never not advised mothers who are recovering and prescribed methadone (taking it as prescribed) not to breast feed. But Weintraub is defiant, and he intentionally has taken to the news in a show of dramatics to assert his case (nevermind his junk science). Of course medical doctors would be concerned, one going to rebut by saying: “I would hate for the message of this really tragic case to deter any women who are in treatment for opioid-use disorder who want the best for their infant to discourage them from initiating breastfeeding,” Schiff said. “That would be probably a really detrimental side effect of this terrible outcome for this family.” CITATION
Also as pointed out by WHYY: We have learned from the 45-plus years of the war on drugs that using a stick to try to deter people from using drugs doesn’t work: Jones is already grieving the loss of her son. What she needs now, Forman said, is support to help her stay off opioids and additional drug treatment to help her kick other addictions, not incarceration. What’s more, Forman said, the criminal charges might cause other addicted mothers to hide their habits from health care providers for fear of being arrested. “It’s going to really dissuade women from being honest with their doctors about drug use, meaning they won’t be able to get the health care they need,” she said. CITATION
Weintraub enjoys the sensationalism, because it amounts to more attention for him in the press. And you can be certain during his next campaign season it will be something he boasts about on the campaign stump. However, despite any propaganda, it is clear that Weintraub and the Judge are “stretching” the laws here, the public (ignorant to the science largely) eats up the dramatic fairy tale story of Weintraub hungrily. They buy into his assertions “she killed a baby,” and when the medical community has rebuked with facts, the facts don’t communicate as well as Weintraub preying on emotions of unscientific public. To some observers, the prosecution of Samantha Jones is no more than a one-off case that captured sensational headlines around the globe.
Even more interestingly, despite Weintraub’s assertions that the Mom KILLED the baby by breastfeeding the baby, no drug testing or samples were ever requested or taken by the District Attorney of the breast milk. In other words, there is no direct evidence that the mother was the one who transmitted the “dangerously” high level of methadone to the baby. Samantha Whitney Jones defense attorney dryly, and with an irritated tone, repeatedly pointed this out.
He also pointed out that two (by some accounts) three other individuals also lived in that house, inferring there could have been another source of the drugs if she was indeed “poisoned.” (Coroner’s report does not state overdose as cause of death). The defense attorney points out that the baby’s father and Jone’s mother also lived in the house, and both have struggle and/or are struggling with opioid dependence, and had direct contact with the baby in the preceding 24 hours before the infant was found dead. So whomever (Weintraub) drew the conclusion that the drugs came from breast milk are speculating, or imagining a theory and basing their charges of homicide on that loose theory.
Most career-politician prosecutors are aware of the outrage, agitation and frenzy that injuries to infants or small children invoke in their voting populations, and they accordingly capitalize on it. They purposely invoke or prey on that hysterical response. They portray themselves as protectors of children, knowing full well that the science does not support the theory, and that innocent mothers/fathers might well be jailed, but are more interested in “winning votes” rather than protecting the community or pursuing justice. This image-based justice is scary state of affairs, and a system that is rewarding prosecutors and judges to bend or break or stretch the rules in ruthless and selfish pursuit of fame and most importantly re-election.
JUNK SCIENCE: IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHY CHARGING BREAST FEEDING MOTHERS ON METHADONE IS A SCARY PRECEDENT TO START, THEN TAKE A LOOK AT WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE “TRENDY” PROSECUTORS PURSUING SHAKEN BABY SYNDROME, I.E. JUNK SCIENCE
Let me give you another example: Shaken Baby Syndrome. Shaken Baby Syndrome cases are HUGE in the press, and they are big cases for the exact same reason Samantha Whitney Jones’ case is a big press generator.
However, the symptoms leading up to many ER physicians diagnosing “shaken baby syndrome” are also symptoms of a number of other infant disorders that also result in fatalities, and the doctors often times lack the circumstantial knowledge (or scientific evidence) to delineate between if it was truly “shaken baby syndrome” or some sudden onset of one of the number of other infant disorders that can abruptly result in fatalities. Many times the physicians consult with the prosecutor, and the prosecutor or child advocacy center convinces the doctor that this is just what must have occurred. Most prosecutors get excited about dead baby cases. Think about Casey Anthony, or Susan Smith, Marybeth Tenning, Darlene Routier — These are HOT media cases and the prosecutor takes center stage. These are career making cases. Shaken baby syndrome has symptoms that are general and vague enough, that you can turn Sudden Infant Death Syndrome into Shaken Baby Syndrome, as long as you have enough pizazz and you pay your experts enough.
Never mind justice, this is a career move and means lots of press and reelection.
The medical community is beginning to push back on this new “trendy” thing for prosecutors to “punish baby killers”, by pointing out the number of other disorders that have the same symptoms of shaken baby syndrome and also result in fatalities. They are pushing back. Shocked by the shaky science in many of these cases (many defendants can’t even afford to hire their own medical experts), the medical community has begun to step up and contradict it. The message being, “lawyers aren’t doctors, look we are the experts here.”
Here is some of the pushback of the medical community that has trickled into the courts:
- In December, a judge in New York overturned the murder conviction of a 55-year-old babysitter who had spent more than a decade in prison, declaring that the shaking evidence against her was “either demonstrably wrong or are now subject to new debate.” CITATION
- Two weeks later, a Texas judge recommended a new trial for a man sentenced to 35 years in 2000 for injuring his girlfriend’s daughter. The district attorney and the defense attorney had submitted a joint agreement to the court stating that “the science that formed the basis of the conviction is now known to be unsound.”CITATION
- In the cases where convictions were overturned, defendants had to marshal significant legal resources and medical expertise to challenge the scientific testimony against them. Some have been supported by lawyers affiliated with the Innocence Network, a worldwide organization that works to exonerate defendants who say they were wrongly convicted. The network’s affiliates are currently working on at least a hundred Shaken Baby cases. CITATION
When you hear of infanticide (or murder of a baby), any reasonable and compassionate human being will get emotional. (Particularly women will get emotional). For this reason Shaken Baby Syndrome cases are easy to win, because manipulating that emotion or empathy for a “little baby” that was “murdered” is easy. It’s easy to get jurors to ignore science if prosecutors exclude science from cases and if prosecutors use terminology like “murder of little baby” recklessly to get what they want. As such, shaken baby cases are “trendy” and often times easy to win, because the same emotion that the death of an infant invokes in the public and press, is also easy to invoke in a jury. And a win on that case for a prosecutor is a big win, that same slippery non-scientific wording used to manipulate a jury is re-used in the press. The prosecutor essentialy demonizes a parent with no evidence, convicts them of shaken baby syndrome, and takes to the press. The press also never examines the science, that sort of thing does not sell papers.
Here is another case involving an overturned conviction: Thogmartin in 2002 also reviewed the case of a 2-month-old who had been found dead on the floor next to his parents’ bed. John Peel and the baby’s mother said the infant had fallen, but Joan Wood, the medical examiner at the time, ruled the death a homicide, citing a contusion and bleeding on the brain. Peel was serving a 10-year prison sentence when Thogmartin told prosecutors that he could not substantiate Wood’s findings. He sent the case to another medical examiner, who wrote that the single contusion and bleeding “do not a homicide make.” State Attorney Bernie McCabe asked a judge to vacate the conviction, and Peel was released from prison. “He was wrongly jailed,” McCabe told The Post. CITATION
So as science advances, and a more educated judiciary has emerged from the numerous overturned cases, the sham of shaken baby syndrome has been debunked multiple occasions. A series of overturned conviction and embarrassed prosecutors, upset medical doctors and annoyed press has slowly begun to erode this non-scientific and emotionally-manipulative way of securing convictions. People realize the price is too high, as no innocent mom or dad or caretaker of a child should be accused of such an awful crime so the prosecutor can get some cheap fame.
Although I would imagine most prosecutors who convict people of shaken baby syndrome are aware of the tentative science behind shaken baby syndrome. Yet they do it anyway. They are also aware that their juries are not going to be aware of the junk science, and they read the press and the cases, and they realize what a big case like a shaken baby conviction will do to advance their careers. They are excited to take to the press and declare “I’m a defender of murdered babies,” and some how lack the moral conscience or guilt to allow science to get in the way with their “big wins.”
But there is so much junk science. All these wrongful or overturned convictions in recent years have changed public mentality about the legitimacy of shaken baby convictions, and it has angered and pissed off a large number of medical doctors specializing in pediatrics, etc., into becoming annoyed at prosecutors using junk science for their own self promotion. Many medical doctors (if paid $20,000 plus) will agree testify in front of a jury, and swing the science enough to confuse a jury, and force science align with prosecutorial theory. But most medical doctors can look at these cases, and see that the majority are not grounded in science or extremely scientifically shaky. As in most medical experts can look over the MRI’s, medical records, transcripts, testimony and genuinely get apprehensive. Because from the medical evidence, most physicians can draw a conclusion that “mmmmm, this case could go either way.” And for most educated people, the idea that we are going to send a possibly innocent person to jail for 10-20 years – on possible junk science – is not a reasonable outcome. Nobody cares that much about if a prosecutor gets re-elected except the prosecutor, who has the money to pay a prosecution expert thousands of dollars (for a few hours of time) to get that expert to say whatever science can win their case.
But case precedents do not change or alter the fact that dirty fame seeking prosecutors are using junk science. And much research exists, along with overturned convictions, to show that much of the “science” employed by prosecutors in shaken baby syndrome cases is – just that: JUNK SCIENCE:
- The most obvious symptom was the subdural bleeding, which had long been attributed to tears in the bridging veins that run from the surface of the brain to larger veins underneath the skull. In 2001, a team of doctors in Britain reported that it had studied the brains of several dozen infants with inflicted head trauma, including those who were allegedly shaken, and found the subdural bleeding “trivial.” In research papers that followed, Pennsylvania State University radiologist Julie Mack and other doctors suggested that the slight bleeding could have come from millions of much smaller blood vessels, similar to capillaries. Violent shaking was an unlikely cause of the bleeding because the tiny vessels were connected to the skull and would not shift from shaking. CITATION
As of lately the medical community, realizing the garbage science that is convicting innocent people in some cases, is beginning to object to the criminal court system, and rebut some of these (fake “science” based & bought medical opinion) or – otherwise sordid tactics by prosecutors-that-think-they-are-smarter-than-doctors, and the medical community is beginning to problematize the abuses of prosecutors go about fabricating charges without any actual biological or physiological merit that ties the symptoms to their theory that the baby was shaken.
SHAKEN BABY SYNDROME AND “DEATH BY BREAST FEEDING” HAVE A DIRECT CORRELATION: PROSECUTORIAL ABUSE AND DISHONESTY
The dangerous thing about Weintraub’s case in Bucks County mimics the problematic history of shaken baby syndrome. Again Weintraub’s case invokes a level of emotion and outrage as he offers that Samantha Whitney Jones “knowingly and willingly” killed her baby. Just as all the prosecutors across the country who charged and convicted with homicide after fatality due to “shaken baby syndrome,” suddenly Weintraub is charging a case wherein no breast milk was ever tested. So in the same way that shaken baby syndrome is based on symptoms from a number of other disorders, and cannot always be directly tied to abuse by parent resulting in death – Weintraubs case is also based on junk science. And likely he is well aware of this, as well as the dissenting medical opinions.
What is scary about the Samantha Whitney Jones case is that now every time an infant dies of “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome” or “SIDS,” and the mother is a recovering addict on methadone who breast feeds – we are going to see homicide charges.
What is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)? Sudden infant death syndrome, also known as cot death or crib death, is the sudden unexplained death of a child less than one year of age. Diagnosis requires that the death remains unexplained even after a thorough autopsy and detailed death scene investigation. SIDS usually occurs during sleep. CITATION
Likewise Samantha Whitney Jone’s child died during sleep. So no drug testing of the breast milk, no pathology or coronors report ever linking the Samantha Whitney Jones’ infant’s death to drug overdose, and an overzealous prosecutor who feels he can prey on the emotional reactions of the public to win his conviction and advertise himself as “defender of most vulnerable, helpless, poor little babies.” How about that for a campaign stump speech? “I defend babies.”
It’s a dangerous precedent that Bucks County is attempting set with the Jones case, and one that is not based on science, and fueled by emotion and greedy-selfish political motivations by a canniving prosecutor. A conviction in this case would result in other prosecutors around the state (maybe even the country) latching on to this scheme to “win big” and “score votes.” The ramifications will be this: Now everytime an infant dies of SIDS, and the mother is a recovering addict on methadone who breast fed; then, the popular thing for the prosecutor to do will be to charge that mother with murder. Who cares if it’s junk science? A big win on an emotionally wrought case like that just might secure the prosecutor a seat in the next election.
That’s a dangerous precedent to set, and one that nobody who has any interest in propagating meaningful, community minded and justice centered prosecutions can ever endorse. Particularly if these prosecutions are oppositional to medical opinion (no coroner declared the baby died of overdose), and contrary to medical advice to the defendant who was never told not to breast feed her baby (in fact she was advised of the benefits to breast feeding, and likely never told about the risks of taking doctor prescribed medications).
Therefore, Weintraub should throw out the charges (as he knows they charges are manufactured junk science), and rely on the raw initial medical opinion. Medical opinion should not be purchased to fit his “legal theory” so he can win his case; rather, his legal theory should be based on facts that are substantiated predominantly by medical opinion.
He should be seeking truth and justice, as opposed to convictions and fame.
It’s a disturbing trend Weintraub is attempting to set. And no guilt over the risk of jailing an innocent women will seemingly dissaude his love of the cameras or moral obligation to pursue justice and not convictions. Now all Sudden Infant Death Syndrome cases will suddenly be looked at, and the prosecutor will first ask “was mom on methadone?” And if the answer is “yes,” they will think, “well look how famous he got, he even got re-elected, I wonder what expert doctor he used, this could be my career making case.”
For all these reasons, this is a case you should follow and be educated about, because it’s quite disturbing. Citizens cannot be manipulated by politician prosecutors, but should rely on the science and weigh the evidence prior to the intentional emotional invoking rhetoric of some arrogant prosecutor attempting to win votes. I oppose more excessive sentences, and more incarceration of opioid addicts, if it’s not going to stop or at least plateau the rising opioid fatalities that plague this country.
I’ve said it time and time again, time to get the medical doctors leading the fight in the opioid epidemic as the lawyers and judges have FAILED us in the last 45 years since the “war on drugs” began. I specifically oppose yet another prosecutorial scheme to convict breast feeding women on methadone of homicide every time SIDS occurs, regardless of how many votes a sitting prosecutor may or may not win. I would rather see a guilty man go free than any innocent person convicted. What an alarming, and yes “trailblazing” case.
The precedent Samantha Whitney Jones’ case would set with a win at trial (and a prosecutor’s effective use of JUNK science) is a very dangerous one. It’s a case you should watch very closely, and a prosecutor lacking integrity, whom you should look at closely to FIRE QUICKLY.
Science, not emotion, should prevail.
And I am confident medical doctors agree with me.