Bartow County murder conviction upheld
April 17, 2018--7:52 a.m.
The Georgia Supreme Court has unanimously upheld the murder conviction of a woman in the death of her 14-month-old daughter who died after ingesting cocaine.
Stephanie Stephens and Anthony Tawon Williams lived in a rental home in Cartersville with their children, including their toddler daughter, Jewell Williams. According to witnesses, the couple sold crack-cocaine from their home, typically keeping it under an arm of the living room couch or in Stephens’ purse. One witness testified that while Stephens sometimes ordered the children out of the room during a drug deal, Jewell would typically come back into the room before the drug deal was done.
On the night of June 15, 2007, Jewell apparently found some of the cocaine and ingested it. Early the next morning, emergency personnel responded to a 911 call to the home where they found Jewell in severe distress. According to the medical personnel, the baby had a very weak pulse and an irregular, gasping breathing pattern that is often related to cardiac arrest and death. Jewell was transported to the local hospital where she was pronounced dead. An autopsy showed the toddler had died from acute cocaine toxicity. In the couple’s home, an officer noticed a crystalline substance on the floor in front of the couch, and the contents of a vacuum cleaner plugged into the wall nearby later tested positive for cocaine.
In September 2008, a Bartow County grand jury indicted Stephens and Williams for felony murder, cruelty to children, contributing to the deprivation of a minor, possession of cocaine, and possession with the intent to distribute cocaine. In October 2008, a fugitive task force arrested the couple in Atlanta. Following a hearing, the trial court allowed four women to testify that they had visited the home numerous times to buy cocaine, most often from Stephens but sometimes from Williams. Following a four-day trial, the jury found both Stephens and Williams guilty of all charges. On November 2, 2015, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld Williams’ convictions and life prison sentence. Stephens ultimately was sentenced only on one count – felony murder based on possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. In her current appeal before the state Supreme Court, Stephens argues the evidence was insufficient to convict her of felony murder because the State failed to prove a connection between the drug possession charge and her child’s death.
But in Monday’s opinion, “We reject that argument, just as we rejected the same argument in the appeal of her co-defendant,” Justice Nels S.D. Peterson writes for the Court.
Stephens argued that the State failed to prove that the drug offense was dangerous per se or created a foreseeable risk of death. “But as we explained in rejecting essentially the same argument by Stephens’s co-defendant, ‘the facts support the unmistakable conclusion that the victim ingested the deadly dose of cocaine after finding it in the place where [Williams and Stephens] stored it to sell to others,’” the opinion says. “Accordingly, the evidence is sufficient to support Stephens’s conviction for felony murder arising out of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.”
The Court finds that the merger or vacating of all of Stephens’ convictions except for the felony murder conviction for which she was sentenced, renders moot her arguments as to any counts other than that one.