SALT LAKE CITY – A woman charged with murder for allegedly delaying a Caesarean section (search) that could have saved one of her twins pleaded guilty Wednesday to child endangerment in a deal with prosecutors.
Under the plea bargain, prosecutors are recommending no prison time for Melissa Ann Rowland (search), 28. They said they dropped the murder charge based on her "mental health history."
"We don't think two felony convictions is a slap on the hand," District Attorney David Yocom said. "We felt this was a reasonable and just result." Sentencing was set for April 29.
Yocom would not disclose details about Rowland's mental health.
Rowland has said she never intended to kill her baby and was not informed she needed immediate surgery to save the babies' lives. She disputed prosecutors' allegations she was worried about a scar from the surgery, saying she delivered two previous children through C-sections.
In court Wednesday, she admitted using cocaine in the weeks before she finally underwent the C-section that produced a stillborn boy. The second child, a girl who survived and has been adopted, had cocaine and alcohol in her system.
Legal experts said they do not know of any other instance in the United States in which a woman was charged with murder for refusing or delaying a C-section.
The National Organization for Women (search), Planned Parenthood (search) and the American Civil Liberties Union (search) and others have said prosecutors went too far in charging her with murder, calling the case a back-door effort to undermine abortion rights and an attack on a poor, possibly disturbed person.
Rowland's attorney, Michael Sikora, has said she is mentally ill.
"She decided it was in her best interest to resolve the case as soon as possible, and I support her in the decision she made," Sikora said.
Judge Dennis Fuchs told Rowland that he can sentence her to up to 10 years in prison, despite prosecutors' recommendation. But Rowland could then withdraw her plea.