Crime - Sacto 911

Mother pleads guilty in fatal drug poisoning of infant son in 2012

The mother of a 7-month-old boy fatally poisoned in 2012 pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and felony child abuse Friday, although it now appears the baby did not die from the reasons that made it a case of national interest.

Citrus Heights police originally charged Sarah Stephens on the theory that she had knowingly poisoned Ryder Salmen by breastfeeding him while she had been abusing three drugs - Xanax, methadone and the painkiller Opana. Ryder had those drugs in his system when he was found dead in September 2012.

But a press release from the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office states that “subsequent testing conducted by the District Attorney’s Laboratory of Forensic Services determined it was scientifically unlikely the fatal overdose came from breast milk.”

While methadone was found in the baby’s system, the district attorney’s spokeswoman, Shelly Orio said “we don’t know exactly how it was administered. We knew that was her drug of choice. What we can prove is what she plead to.”

Ryder had been found “out of it” and methadone was also in his system five months before he died, the press release states.

Stephens is facing a maximum sentence of 12 years and four months in state prison when she is scheduled to go before Superior Court Judge Ben Davidian.

Call The Bee’s Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @BradB_at_SacBee.

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