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Pathetic tale of exposing a child to methadone, not bringing him to the hospital, and being convicted of felony murder

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A criminal defense lawyer at once needs abundant compassion, empathy, and a cast-iron stomach. Even with that ongoing goal, I am still retching over yesterday’s Virginia appellate case opinion concerning the following allegations proven against a woman — and apparently admitted to by her trial testimony — who as a result was convicted of felony murder:

Lisa Hylton, while under a protective order for child neglect — which included a ban on using illegal drugs — illegally purchased methadone. Concerned that she had been shorted on her purchase price, Hylton measured the liquid methadone into her three-year-old son’s cough medicine measuring cup to find that she had indeed been shorted. Hylton v. Virginia, ___ Va. App. ___ (April 10, 2012).

Hylton left the methadone on the counter to focus with her boyfriend on how to handle having been shortchanged. In the meantime, her son thought the methadone was his cough medicine to take, and he drank it. When Hylton realized what had happened, she refused to take him to the hospital, not wanting to get into further trouble with the child protective service.

As a result, her son died.

It appears from the appellate opinion that Hylton admitted to the gist f the foregoing allegations, possibly not about refusing to take him to the hospital, and focused at trial in arguing that her felonious action of possessing an illegal drug was too attenuated from her son’s death to qualify her for felony murder. The Court of Appeals had no problem affirming her conviction, including this statement:

The Virginia Supreme Court has previously held that where . . . death results from ingestion of a controlled substance, classified in law as dangerous to human life, the homicide constitutes murder of the second degree within the intendment of Code § 18.2-33 if that substance had been distributed to the decedent in violation of the felony statutes of this Commonwealth. Heacock, 228 Va. at 405, 323 S.E.2d at 95. See also Hickman v. Commonwealth, 11 Va. App. 369, 372, 398 S.E.2d 698, 700 (1990) (the felony-murder doctrine applies when an individual participate[s] as a principal in the first degree, jointly with [the victim], in the felonious act of knowingly and intentionally possessing [the drug] and participate[s] as a principal in the second degree in [the victim’s] possessory act of ingestion of [the drug], resulting in the victim’s death).

Consequently, all sellers of illegal drugs in Virginia need to beware of felony murder prosecutions and convictions, let alone purchasers needing to beware all the more about their purchases getting into others’ hands.

My heart goes out and bursts for Trevor, Lisa’s now-deceased son.