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March 18, 2015

Ambulance crews, police officers, and the county coroner are all at a house in the early morning – an infant has been found dead from unintentional suffocation. The infant’s parents are understandably emotional, crying and hardly able to speak. Apparently the parents had put the infant in bed with them to sleep. An empty crib sits across the room from the bed where the infant died.

Although an accident, the infant’s death was preventable. It is a sad reality: Infants die when adults sleep next to them. In Missouri in 2012, 57 children under the age of one year died of accidental suffocation. Most of those 57 deaths occurred while adults were co-sleeping with the child.

What do I mean by “co-sleeping”? When an adult shares a sleeping surface with an infant, there is a significant risk of unintentional suffocation. Typically this cause of death is the result of overlay – a type of unintentional suffocation that occurs when an infant is sharing the same sleep surface with one or more persons, and the infant is rolled-over on or entrapped under the person’s arm or leg.

In my role as Prosecuting Attorney for Taney County, I serve as a member of the county’s Child Fatality Review Board – a group that meets to review and study child deaths that occur in Taney County. The Child Fatality Review Board must meet every time a child death occurs in Taney County. Over the past eight (8) years, our board has met numerous times to review unintentional suffocation deaths of infants.

These are incidents in which parents have not intended to harm their babies, and are broken-hearted. If asked, I believe that each parent would say that they wish the hands of time could be turned-back, so they could put that precious child back into his or her crib. However, nothing can bring back these infants. Although such a loss is tragic, it is also preventable in many instances.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that room-sharing without bed sharing reduces the risk of unintentional suffocation deaths of infants. This means, having the infant sleep in the parents’ room, but on a separate sleep surface (like the baby’s crib) close to the parents’ bed. Such an arrangement is safer than co-sleeping and also more likely to prevent suffocation, strangulation and entrapment, all of which may occur when the infant is sleeping in an adult bed. Parents need to also be aware of the need to clear the infant’s crib of all soft bedding items, including stuffed animals, to further reduce the risk of unintentional suffocation.

Please share this information with new parents, so that they may avoid the heartbreak that comes from the accidental death of a child.

Sources: “Missouri Child Fatality Review Program 2012” and American Academy of Pediatrics (http://www.aap.org)

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March 6, 2015

STEPHEN R. STANFIELD, d/o/b 4-04-1985, of Branson, entered a guilty plea Thursday, March 5, 2015, to the class C felony of possession of a controlled substance, in the Circuit Court of Taney County. Judge Laura Johnson sentenced Stanfield to four (4) years in the Missouri Department of Corrections, pursuant to a plea agreement.

Stanfield was arrested in the early morning hours of February 11, 2015, by Forsyth Police Officer Michelle Pugh. Office Pugh was investigating a disturbance at a residence on Proverbs Court, in Forsyth, when she discovered Stanfield and two (2) other individuals in possession of several items of drug paraphernalia, as well as meth and pills. Stanfield entered the guilty plea less than one (1) month after his arrest, and before the results from the drug testing was received from the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab.

A class C felony carries a maximum punishment of up to seven (7) years in the Missouri Department of Corrections and/or a fine of not more than $5,000.00.

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February 26, 2015

CARL E. THOMPSON, d/o/b 7-20-1964, of Rockaway Beach, Missouri, entered a guilty plea Wednesday, February 25, 2015, in the Circuit Court of Taney County, to the class C felony of possession of controlled substance. The guilty plea was entered via closed-circuit video, while Thompson remained housed in the custody of the Missouri Department of Corrections. Pursuant to a plea agreement with the Taney County Prosecutor’s Office, Thompson was sentenced to five (5) years in prison by Circuit Court Judge Laura Johnson.

On February 3, 2014, a Taney County Sheriff’s deputy made contact with Thompson as part of an investigation into an unrelated crime. During the course of this contact, the deputy discovered that Thompson was in possession of a baggie of methamphetamine.

At the time of Thompson’s guilty plea Wednesday, he was in the Missouri Department of Corrections for a violation of his parole. “By conducting the guilty plea by video, Taney County was spared the expense of transporting Mr. Thompson to court in Forsyth, then back to the prison,” says Taney County Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Merrell. “While not all cases can be disposed of by video, each case that is provides a savings to our citizens.”

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February 20, 2015

On Thursday, February 19, 2015, DUSTY RAY HICKS, d/o/b 5-27-1987, was sentenced to two (2) concurrent life sentences for his role in the 2011 kidnapping and murder of Russell and Rebecca Porter, of Willard, Missouri. Judge Calvin Holden, of Greene County, handed-down Hicks’ sentences while acting as the judge assigned to the Taney County Circuit Court case against Dusty Hicks.

The guilty plea was entered by Hicks on December 18, 2014, to two (2) counts of murder in the second degree, two (2) counts of armed criminal action, and two (2) counts of felonious restraint. After hearing victim impact statements from some of the family members of Russell and Rebecca Porter, statements from family and friends of Dusty Hicks, as well as arguments from Taney County Prosecutor Jeff Merrell and defense attorney Jon Van Arkel, Holden sentenced Hicks to life in prison on each murder count, twenty-five (25) years on each armed criminal action count, and seven (7) years on each felonious restraint count. Pursuant to the terms of the plea agreement, those sentences are to run concurrently with one another.

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