Jessica Harper, a Pennsylvania woman who spent 85 days in jail five years ago for the death of a 2-month-old baby, has now been charged with murder for the death of another 2-month-old baby, the New York Daily News is reporting.
The first child, a 2-month-old baby, had died after the 28-year-old mother refused to heed warnings from doctors on how to position her baby to sleep. The 2-month-old child had suffocated from what doctors have described as positional asphyxiation.
According to reports, the Pennsylvania mother left the baby unattended on a living room couch while spending several hours upstairs and texting friends as the baby lay dead downstairs. Detective Angel Valle, who was in charge of the case in 2011, said Jessica Harper slammed herself for the death of her first child, describing herself as “selfish and neglectful.”
“She stated that she lost track of time and continued to text her friends over two hours or more. The defendant said that during that time, she was selfish and neglectful of her son.”
In 2011, Jessica Harper pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 85 days in prison. Prosecutors had initially charged her with first-degree child abuse and involuntary manslaughter, but they whittled it to child abuse charges when she accepted a plea deal after medical examiners had established that the baby’s death was accidental.
When Harper gave birth to another baby this year, doctors instructed her to watch a video on safe sleeping and warned her not to share a bed with the new baby. According to reports, the mother said she was “going to do it anyway.” The last warning over co-sleeping had come less than a week before the baby’s death in July.
According to Jessica, she said the baby slept in between her and her 3-year-old daughter, but when she woke up, the baby was not breathing. Harper is facing charges of endangering the welfare of children, involuntary manslaughter, and third-degree murder.
A statement released by the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office confirmed that Jessica Harper had been warned repeatedly about the risks of co-sleeping and had simply ignored them.
“The investigation revealed that Harper was warned numerous times by multiple professionals not to have the infant sleep in a bed next to her. She ignored those directives.”
The district attorney had called Jessica’s reactions to the risks of co-sleeping a “reckless indifference, unbelievably selfish and lazy at best.” The child was pronounced dead at the scene, and his death was deemed a homicide after an autopsy showed he had suffocated to death.
Jessica Harper is in police custody, and five of her other children are with local social services.
According to the Daily Beast, prosecutors will seek the maximum penalty for involuntary manslaughter and the murder charge this time around. However, Jessica Harper’s mother has blasted the media for saying her daughter killed two of her children.
“The first baby was sleeping on a couch not the bed, and the second one was in the bed… it’s important not to link the two cases together. Right now the media, they’re making it look like it’s the same.”
She said it was the trauma over the loss of her daughter’s first child that made her co-sleep with the newborn. Jessica’s mother said her daughter was fearful and having bad dreams about not being there for her baby that died in 2011, and she believed the new baby was “safer with her than on his own.”
She described her daughter as a great mother, saying Jessica erred in judgment by going against the guidelines of doctors and child care workers, but a murder charge for her actions was harsh.
Do you think Jessica Harper should be charged with the murder of her dead baby?
What is your take on co-sleeping? Do you think it fosters bonding between mother and child, or could it pose a grave risk?