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Evidence of harm is plain in child's death

Posted: August 8, 2015 - 11:02pm

For the criminal justice system to work properly, defense attorneys must provide a vigorous and competent defense for clients. At the extreme end of this duty, they sometimes veer into what appears to be a strange alternate reality – a bizarre world where left is right and up is down.

That’s what appears to have happened in the case of Lexis Fay Russell, the 23-year-old Columbia County woman who faced felony murder charges in the death of her 5½-month-old son.

Defense attorney Muneer Awad argued, and Magistrate Judge Christopher Hudson incredibly concurred, that the presence of illegal drugs in her home – drugs she admitted to using and manufacturing – did not “harm” the boy and her other child, a 2-year-old.

He must have been referring to a reality where “harm” means something else entirely.

In this reality, however, the household use of illegal, mind-altering drugs – which, in this case, were real and synthetic marijuana and methamphetamine – creates multiple layers of harm for children. And there’s no shortage of data to support that premise.

First, there’s the actual physical harm from exposure to harmful chemicals. Then there’s the emotional and psychological harm caused by parental neglect and instability. But there’s also the erosion of morality that enables addicted parents to let other irresponsible adults into close contact with the children.

That last type of harm appears to be what led to the death of Russell’s child: Her boyfriend, Jacob Drew Harris, 26, reportedly told a jailhouse informant he smothered the baby with a blanket “to make him stop crying.” Harris will face malice murder in addition to drug possession charges. Instead of felony murder, Russell may face second-degree cruelty to children and possession of illegal drugs.

One doesn’t need a law degree to draw a straight line from her personal actions to her baby’s death. She bears part of the responsibility, even if some officers of the court don’t see the world that way.

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