ST. GEORGE — A St. George woman was sentenced to serve up to 15 years in prison Tuesday for child endangerment related to breastfeeding her 4-day old baby while taking heroin.
Elizabeth Ola Canon, 30, was emotional in the courtroom of 5th District Judge Eric A. Ludlow as a silent video taken from a convenience store security camera was shown by the prosecution during her sentencing hearing.
The video showed Canon carrying her newborn son, who was unresponsive, into the convenience store and asking for help. The child wasn’t breathing and was placed on the checkout counter as one of the people in the store began to administer CPR. Paramedics arrived and rushed the child to Dixie Regional Medical Center.
Canon was crying and slightly rocking in her chair as the video played.
“That is the event that led to that baby being taken to the hospital,” Deputy Washington County Attorney Rachelle Shumway said after stopping the video.
The child ended up spending five days in the hospital, where it was determined the episode was the result of ingesting heroin.
Police found a syringe containing heroin inside the baby’s diaper bag in the back seat of the car Canon and her child had been in. She told officers she had used the heroin and subsequently breastfed her baby at least three times prior to the convenience store incident.
Canon pleaded guilty last month to a second-degree felony for child endangerment and a class A misdemeanor for drug possession.
The reason for showing the video, Shumway said, was to impress upon the court why Canon deserved prison time.
Shumway said Canon had not been upfront about her heroin use during the incident.
Canon’s lawyer, Ryan Stout, said the situation was chaotic, and his client was doing everything she could at the time to save her baby.
Patrick Carroll, one of the doctors who tended to the baby, testified that the child initially needed a machine to help him breathe. He was also treated for potential seizures because the medical staff didn’t know the cause of the child’s condition.
If they had known it was related to a potential heroin overdose, doctors could have treated the child more effectively and possibly released him from the hospital sooner, Carroll said.
Toxicology tests done at the hospital found the body had drugs in his system that pointed to heroin, Carroll said. A substance called 6-acetylmorphine is a metabolized form of heroin.
“It’s extremely unusual to find it in a baby,” Carroll said. “It would suggest the baby directly ingested heroin in some form or another.”
While the child, now 7 months old, is reportedly doing well in foster case, Carroll said only time will tell if the child developed any potential developmental delays due to the lack of oxygen to his brain prior to reaching the hospital.
Shumway said Canon should have disclosed that her child had ingested heroin via her breast milk.
“She still had a chance to do the right thing and didn’t,” Shumway said, using the incident as an example of the “path of destruction” Canon had wrought over 15 years as a result of her drug addiction that finally culminated in “severe trauma to a 4-day-old baby.”
Throughout that time, Shumway said Canon had been given multiple breaks by the court in order to pursue meaningful addition recovery. She was even enrolled in drug and recovery court when the incident involving her baby occurred.
“She continues this pattern of using and abusing,” Shumway told the court. “She continues to be a danger to herself and the community.”
Stout said his client never intended to harm her baby.
“It wasn’t a violent, intentional act,” he said.
Canon needs “clean time” from the drugs, something she has received during the 210 days she’s been in the Purgatory Correctional Facility, he said, adding that she has been doing everything she can while in jail to straighten herself out, including self-improvement programs.
“She’s got good family support,” Stout said, noting the presence of Canon’s mother in the courtroom.
He asked Ludlow not to sentence Canon to prison. If, however, the judge felt it necessary, Stout asked the charge against his client be reduced to a third-degree felony, which carries a zero to 5-year prison term.
Canon also addressed the court.
“March 7 was by far the most traumatic day of my life,” she said. “I never intended for any of this to happen. I regret what happened.”
Canon said how scared she was when her son stopped breathing and how grateful she was when he started breathing again thanks to medical aid.
Canon said she didn’t know at the time that her heroin use was the cause of her son’s condition.
“It wasn’t until later that I learned the entire thing was my fault,” she said.
While she has failed at some treatment options in the past, Canon said, there have been some successes and she had new treatment options lined up if she gets out of jail. She also said she wanted to be a better mother to her three children.
“I would like the opportunity to be the person I know I can be and the mom I know I can be,” Canon said.
Despite this, Ludlow told Canon she had already wasted previous opportunities granted by the court and noted she had eight felony and 25 misdemeanors convictions, as well as a number of probation violations.
“Unfortunately, Miss Canon, there’s not a lot more the court can do with you,” the judge said.
Ludlow said there are two types of cases in which a person earns prison time: being given a chance to reform time after time and yet not doing it and when the crime is so egregious that the court has little choice but to order prison time.
“I think in both cases, you’ve met both of those,” the judge said. “This is an egregious circumstance. It’s an egregious case.”
Following the sentencing, Shumway said,“We think that justice was served today for the judge to order her to prison. She will no longer be able to hurt members of this community.”
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