Woman gets up to 22 years for child’s co-sleeping death

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LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) – A Lancaster County woman will serve up to 22 years in prison for the suffocation death of her infant son in 2016.

Jessica M. Harper, 30, will serve 11 to 22 years in prison. In exchange for the sentence, she pleaded no contest Monday to third-degree murder and endangering the welfare of a child, the district attorney’s office said.

Harper’s 2-month-old son died July 12, 2016, at their Fulton Township home. An autopsy found the boy died of asphyxiation as he slept in a bed with her.

The boy was Harper’s second child to die of asphyxiation. Another son was also 2 months old when he died in Maryland in 2011 after being left to sleep on a couch, prosecutors said.

Police said when her youngest son was born, Lancaster General Hospital made Harper watch a video on safe sleeping before she was discharged. When the baby was admitted to a hospital a month before his death, Harper was again made to watch a video about safe sleeping and two nurses spoke to her about the dangers.

Police said social services workers and Harper’s pediatrician also repeatedly warned her of the dangers of co-sleeping. Six days before her son died, they said she responded to the repeated warnings by telling a physician’s assistant that she was going to do it anyway.

By pleading no contest, Harper doesn’t admit guilt but conceded prosecutors have enough evidence for a conviction. The legal effect is the same as a guilty plea.

Lancaster County Judge Margaret Miller called the plea “a step away from true accountability and true acceptance.”

“You knew better, and no one could tell you different,” Miller said to Harper. “Well, it has taken two dead babies … for you to finally, I hope, accept that you don’t always know better.”

Harper’s remaining children have been relocated by social services.

“I am glad they will not be in your care and custody,” Miller said.

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