AUSTIN, Texas - An Austin woman who authorities say was caught on tape smearing human feces on her then-3-year-old daughter's IV catheter was sentenced to 20 years in prison Monday after pleading guilty to injury to a child.
A judge sentenced Emily Beth McDonald, 25, under a plea deal with prosecutors. McDonald had faced up to life in prison if convicted of first-degree injury to a child. Instead, she pleaded guilty to second-degree injury to a child.
McDonald cried briefly during Monday's hearing but said nothing.
Her attorney, Bob Phillips, told the Austin American-Statesman outside court that McDonald put feces on the catheter while the girl was hospitalized in 2009 because she wanted to elevate her daughter's fever so doctors would continue an antibiotics treatment they had planned to stop. At the time, McDonald was "under extreme psychological stress," Phillips said, and fatigue and depression contributed to that stress.
"Obviously it was a criminal act, and it was wrongheaded, but it was done with a pure heart," he said.
According to an arrest affidavit, McDonald told police she had smeared feces on the girl's central venous line five times during her daughter's six-week hospital stay. A central line is a catheter inserted into a patient's chest or neck that leads to a vein or directly to the heart. It allows for the quick insertion of medication or fluids and monitors cardiovascular health.
Travis County prosecutor Rob Drummond said McDonald committed "medical child abuse."
"It doesn't have any other rationale than any other form of child abuse would have," he said. "Our goal in this case was to protect Emily McDonald's children and to hold her responsible."
The girl is now "thriving and well and going to be fine," Phillips said. She and McDonald's two other children now live with their respective fathers.
The affidavit said that the girl was admitted to Dell Children's Medical Center on April 15, 2009, with a high fever and "a long history of chronic diarrhea." Blood tests came back positive for bacteria commonly found in feces. The affidavit said hospital officials set up a hidden camera in her room after the girl continued to have setbacks.