Mom acquitted in pot brownie case
updated 3:00 a.m. CT, Fri., Jan. 16, 2009
OROVILLE — A Chico woman, accused of giving her 5-year-old daughter a marijuana brownie, was acquitted Thursday of felony child endangerment, with the jury deadlocked over a lesser misdemeanor version of the same charge.
The prosecutor had asked the Butte County Superior Court jury to convict Madeline McChesney, 32, of "willful criminal negligence" by putting her daughter at risk of great bodily harm or death.
In closing summation Thursday afternoon, McChesney's lawyer, Jodea Foster, argued the single mother simply made an "error in judgment," caused in part by several anti-depressant medications she was taking, and that the child was never at risk of serious harm.
Because the defendant's roommate, who had a medical marijuana prescription, normally left them on top of the refrigerator, the Chico mother asserted through her lawyer that she didn't realize the pan of brownies on the kitchen counter contained any pot until after giving her daughter a piece before taking her to school.
But deputy district attorney Kelly Maloy argued that explanation was at odds with her own daughter's claims that when she was given the drug-laced treat, her mother put her finger to her lips, saying, "Shhhh, don't tell anyone."
During a videotaped interview with Children's Services caseworkers, which was played during McChesney's trial, the 5-year-old recounted her mother gave her the brownies with "the special oil" about 10 times.
However, on the witness stand, the little girl denied receiving the ''sweets" any other time.
Jurors deliberated about two and a half hours Thursday evening before finding McChesney not guilty of the felony child abuse charge.
They declared themselves hung 6-6 on a lesser misdemeanor count of child endangerment without the great bodily injury allegation.
Maloy called it "an important issue," and said she would "likely" retry the Chico mother on the misdemeanor charge on which the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict.
Foster could not be immediately reached for comment following the verdict.
The defendant's daughter was taken to Enloe Medical Center in Chico last April 17, after complaining to a school nurse at Rosedale School in Chico of feeling "swirly and icky."
When initially questioned, McChesney denied giving the pot-laced brownie to her daughter.
Later, when confronted with medical tests showing the presence of the drug in the child's system, the Chico mother blamed her daughter for taking the brownie without permission, before eventually admitting giving it to her.
Maloy argued to the jury Thursday the Chico mother had overslept that morning, was under stress and suffered from migraine headaches and gave the energetic kindergartner the marijuana brownie as a "chill pill."
Even if she had given it to her daughter in error, which the prosecutor disputed, McChesney had still endangered her child by riding her to school in a cart on the back of her bike instead of seeking medical help, the prosecutor told the jury.
Foster, McChesney's attorney, maintained his client was still heavily medicated and had initially misrepresented the facts to the police at the hospital in a vain effort to prevent her daughter from being taken away from her, not to avoid criminal prosecution.
Because blood tests were never taken, the amount of pot ingested by the child was unknown, Foster said, rendering invalid a state expert's opinion that the child had been at risk of falling off the playground equipment at school and being seriously injured in her "intoxicated" condition.
In his closing summation, the defense lawyer urged the jury to set aside any emotions they may feel against the mother, and to judge the case strictly by the facts and relevant law, which he argued didn't support the child abuse charges.
Judge Robert Glusman instructed McChesney's jurors Thursday that to find her guilty of felony child endangerment, they must be convinced she willfully exposed her daughter to the "likelihood of great bodily harm or death" through a criminally negligent act.
Maloy said some jurors told her after the verdict they perceived " two distinct camps on the jury … those for and against marijuana."
Jurors favoring conviction, she said, told her they acquitted McChesney of the more serious felony charge, hoping it would convince the rest of the jury to convict the Chico mother of the lesser misdemeanor count.