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Munchausen Mom Gets 40 Years in Death of 2-Year-Old Daughter

Posted Feb 12, 2010 1:30 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A woman who was convicted of child abuse in West Virginia and sentenced to one year in jail after she was caught on tape in a hospital trying to smother her infant son was sentenced today to a 40-year prison term in Florida for the earlier suffocation death of her 2-year-old daughter.

Authorities in Florida had suspected Amanda Ann Butler, now 29, in the earlier death of her daughter, Cheyenne, eight years ago. But they proved their case only after West Virginia authorities got a judge's permission to install a surveillance camera in the baby's hospital room, reports the Florida Times-Union. After a lengthy court battle, the tape was admitted as evidence in Cheyenne's death, paving the way for Butler's plea bargain last year in the second-degree murder case.

Butler, who contended that both children suffered from seizures, apparently falls into a category of individuals who are deemed to have Munchausen syndrome by proxy. A common scenario involves presenting a healthy child for potentially dangerous medical treatment, in order to win attention and sympathy for the parent.

In Butler's case, her alleged motive was to get attention from her husband, the newspaper reports: While she was serving her child-abuse sentence in West Virginia, she told two cellmates she did the same thing to her daughter to persuade the Navy to send her husband home, a prosecutor contended.

Butler's attorney, assistant public defender Debra Billard, said she was a frightened, lonely teenager when she had her daughter, describing Butler as "very young and completely alone and with no idea how to be a mother,” reports the Times-Union.

Earlier this week, a Massachusetts state-court jury convicted a Boston area woman of a lesser charge of second-degree murder in a case in which similar surveillance evidence apparently did not exist to show that the mother, 35-year-old Carolyn Riley, could have been faking her child's symptoms.

She and her husband, who has not yet been tried, were both accused of first-degree murder in the death of their 4-year-old daughter, Rebecca, who never woke up one day after ingesting a toxic level of psychotropic medication, the Boston Globe reports. Prosecutors contended that she and her husband sought psychiatric drugs for Rebecca and two other children as part of a scam to obtain disability benefits for their offspring.

Attorney Michael Bourbeau, who represents Carolyn Riley, says he plans to appeal the jury verdict, describing it as a judgment of “what kind of a mother she was’’ that isn't supported by the medical evidence. Rebecca, he contends, died of fast-acting pneumonia and her mother gave her medication as instructed by a psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist testified under an immunity grant and faces a medical malpractice lawsuit over Rebecca's death.

Riley was sentenced to a mandatory life prison term, which offers the possibility of parole in 15 years.

Earlier related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Possible Life Term for Texas Mom in Child-Surgery Abuse Case"

ABAJournal.com: "Unusual Ohio Custody Case: Did Mom Fake Teen’s Illness?"

Updated at 1 p.m. to include additional information from updated Times-Union article.

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