Judge sentences Sparks woman to life in prison for daughter’s methadone death.
December 14, 2010
By Jaclyn O’Malley firstname.lastname@example.org
A former Sparks heroin addict whose toddler died from ingesting her methadone medication was sentenced to life in prison for the girl’s February 2009 murder, a judge ruled Tuesday morning.
Tracie Diane Schuler, 43, will be eligible for parole after serving 10 years in prison, according to Washoe District Judge Steven Kosach’s punishment. He told her she was the poster child for “man’s inhumanity to man.”
“We are killing ourselves with the cure,” he said of her methadone use, which was prescribed to stop her heroin cravings.
Jurors in October took just three hours to convict Schuler of the second-degree murder of Jessika “Jessie” Haberle, 3, who died after being put down for a nap. The verdict makes Schuler the first person in Washoe County to be convicted of murder related to methadone poisoning.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Greco noted that Schuler had refused an earlier plea deal that would have sent her to prison for six years on a lesser charge. “She can ponder that decision for the rest of her life,” he said.
Schuler’s attorney, Jennifer Lunt, described the case as tragic and said Schuler was using methadone for so long because she was fearful of heroin’s hold on her, and that she was self-medicating an undiagnosed mental illness.
“I love my daughter very much and never did anything to hurt her,” Schuler told Kosach as her only statement before sentencing.
Jurors convicted Schuler on the theory that her messy housekeeping was so neglectful that she gave the girl easy access to her medication bottles. Empty medication bottles were found throughout her cluttered and filthy home, including on the night stand near the bed where her father found her not breathing. Schuler was warned several times by medical professionals that the medications need to be locked away, and out of the reach of children, Greco said. Stickers with the same warnings are also on the bottles.
Medical experts testified they discovered through hair analysis that Jessika had twice before ingested methadone in the months before her death. When she died, the girl had more than nine times the lethal amount of methadone in her system that would kill an adult, according to testimony. Schuler told Sparks detectives the day Jessika died that she had been throwing an uncontrollable tantrum that finally subsided as she read the girl “Black Beauty.”
Greco blamed Schuler’s poor life choices for causing Jessika’s death that he said occurred like a “ticking three-year time bomb.” He said in 1995 Schuler gave birth to a heroin-addicted son whose aunt ultimately adopted him.
Lunt said Schuler’s criminal behavior escalated after she lost the rights to her son. Lunt said in 2005 Schuler decided to finally quit heroin, and opted for methadone medications to help her stop. She said Schuler learned she was pregnant after she began using methadone, and medical professionals told her that continuing to use it would be better for her child. Jessika then had to be weaned off the drug after she was born.
Several years ago Schuler was sentenced to Nevada prison for a felony, Greco said. During that sentencing also before Kosach, she told him she was kicking drugs and he would never see her again.
“If she just listened to the crystal clear warnings and followed the procedure of locking her medication at all times we would not be here and her daughter would still be alive,” Greco said, describing Schuler’s home on Lepori Way Sparks as a “danger zone.”
“She should have been aware of the dangers,” he said. “What better warning than to lose your child because you ingested heroin during pregnancy. This child never had a chance the moment she was born.”