From: pautrey on
Stilwell sentenced to four to six years


By Sarah Newell Williamson | Hickory Daily Record

Published: May 11, 2010

CHARLOTTE - The woman who repeatedly smothered her 11-month-old
daughter was sentenced to up to six years in prison for felony child
abuse resulting in serious bodily injury.

Meredith Stilwell, 22, of Hickory, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge
Friday in exchange for attempted murder charges being dropped.

Monday, the judge sentenced Stilwell to between four and six years in
jail. The maximum sentence Stilwell could have received was eight
years, said assistant district attorney Kelly Miller.

Miller said she was satisfied with the sentence, particularly since
the defense attorney was asking for probation.

Stilwell was arrested on Jan. 27, 2009, for smothering her daughter,
Alexa. Stilwell, a registered nurse, had been caught on a hidden
camera at a children's hospital in Charlotte. First, the footage shows
Stilwell holding and kissing her daughter. When the nurse leaves the
room, Stilwell checks to make sure all the monitors and sensors are
hooked up properly so the alarms would sound when Stilwell stopped her
baby from breathing, according to Dr. Kerry Van Voorhis, a doctor at
the children's hospital who testified on Friday.

Stilwell then pinched Alexa's nose and then placed her hand over
Alexa's mouth. While Stilwell did this, Alexa kicked and struggled to
get air. When Alexa stopped moving, Stilwell placed Alexa back on the
bed and Stilwell sat back down in a chair.

Van Voorhis placed a hidden camera in Alexa's room on Jan. 23, 2009,
because he suspected that Stilwell was intentionally hurting Alexa. He
checked the tape on Jan. 27. Each of Alexa's episodes matched footage
of Stilwell depriving Alexa of air.

Miller gives full credit for Alexa's survival to the doctors.

"Had (Stilwell) kept it up, it's likely the child would have died,"
she said. "The doctors get all the credit for detecting it."

As a result of Stilwell's actions, Alexa has been in and out of
hospitals for most of her life. She has undergone hundreds of tests
and surgeries to diagnose what has caused her to stop breathing.

Dr. Paula Bortnichak performed a psychiatric evaluation on Stilwell.
She testified that Stilwell was diagnosed with Factitious Disorder by
Proxy, also known as Munchausen Syndrome, a mental disorder that
causes people to create medical conditions for attention. Stilwell
also has bipolar disorder and postpartum depression, and never bonded
properly with Alexa, who was born prematurely.

Alexa, now 2 years old, has made a full recovery since Stilwell's
arrest. The children's father has custody of both Alexa and her older
brother, who was never harmed by Stilwell.

"There is no question in my mind she had a mental illness," Miller
said. "The judge had a very difficult role to decide what the sentence
should be. He was very thoughtful, he took notes and he took the
entire weekend to decide."

Miller said Munchausen Syndrome is very rare, but often because it is
difficult to detect.

"Most kids end up dying. You don't catch people in the act," she said.
"I've never seen it in my nine years as district attorney. Had the
doctors not thought outside the box, (Alexa) likely would have died."

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