Innocent Lost: Izabella Whitson

March 16, 2014 

Izabella Whitson, 6 months

BORN: October 28, 2011

DIED: April 27, 2012

CAUSE OF DEATH: Asphyxia

MANNER OF DEATH: Accident

HER STORY: Izabella Whitson, whose parents had criminal records and a history of heavy drug use, was born prematurely and with withdrawal symptoms from methadone, a DCF report said at the time, although the investigation concluded Izabella's mother's drug use was benign.

In January 2012, three months before Izabella died, her parents were reported to be using marijuana, cocaine and other "street drugs," and there was concern that the infant was not being cared for properly. Izabella had a diaper rash from not being cleaned often enough and was frequently left in the care of friends and relatives so that her parents "could go use drugs," a report to DCF alleged. After both parents agreed to speak with drug counselors, the case was closed with no "substantiated findings of substance abuse."

On April 27, 2012, when the 6-month-old baby was sleeping with her mother, Cherie Matthews, Izabella fell off the bed and into a laundry basket, where she suffocated in a pile of clothes. Matthews, who had been briefed on safe-sleeping practices, admitted later that she told the baby's father, Robert Whitson, to say that Izabella had been found unresponsive in her playpen so that Matthews "wouldn't go to jail for child neglect."

For his part, Whitson insisted he had told Matthews "not to sleep with the baby in the bed because when she takes her Klonipin and methadone she wasn't all there," a report said.

When interviewed by authorities shortly after the girl's death, Matthews had track marks on her arms and Whitson appeared to be "under the influence of some kind of substance."

A review of DCF's actions, with particular regard to the January 2012 allegations of heavy drug use by the couple, said the issue "should have been thoroughly addressed" to ensure Izabella's safety. An older child of Matthews' from a previous relationship had been placed earlier in the legal custody of a relative.

Matthews was eventually charged with manslaughter in her daughter's death.

On Friday, she pleaded no contest to a charge of child neglect, and was sentenced to two years of house arrest and three years of probation.

A judge also ordered her to attend a parenting class because she is pregnant.

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