A North Carolina woman whose two sons died inside of an 18-month time span has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the second son’s death.
Katherine Anne Jennings, 33, was arrested in Charlotte Tuesday and taken to Brunswick County where her eight-month old son Luke Stephen Phillips died Dec. 13, 2013. Medical examiners ruled the death an accident after finding the child suffocated while sleeping with his mother.
In June 2012, Jennings’ first son, four-month old James Robert 'Bo' Phillips also died. That death, too, was ruled an accident but the official cause was later changed to ”undetermined.”
Jennings told investigators after each death that she had been sleeping with the infants before they died, according to The Charlotte Observer. She reportedly told police that when Luke died the child was lying face up in her arms.
Sleeping with infants is a practice known as co-sleeping. It is a controversial practice that critics claim endangers children. Supporters of the co-sleeping argue it is done safely in other cultures and promotes emotional stability as well as helping babies rest better.
The American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents that they should not sleep with their children. Instead, the academy recommends, babies should be put to sleep on their backs, alone in a crib and not surrounded by pillows or blankets.
Brunswick County Assistant District Attorney Lee Bollinger said his office has never before filed charges against a parent in a co-sleeping case in which a child died.
“She’s had two infants die and so that automatically makes this case different from folks who have an isolated incident of a child’s death,” Bollinger told the Daily Mail.
He would not say what specifically prompted him to file charges in Luke’s death. Bollinger also declined to comment on why his office did not file charges in connection with James’ death.
Jennings was married to Seth Phillips when the couple lived in Brunswick County. They recently divorced. Phillips, 32, serves in the Coast Guard and now lives in Tennessee with the couple’s 4-year-old daughter.
He was not home when either of the babies died.
Involuntary manslaughter is a felony charge related to an unintentional killing. Under North Carolina law, Jennings could face 10 to 59 months in prison if convicted.