Mother sentenced to prison in baby overdose death
JANESVILLE—A drug-addicted, clinically depressed mother whose baby died of a methadone overdose will spend five years in prison, a Rock County judge decided Monday.
Tallie J. Strommen of Beloit was visiting a friend in Janesville on Dec. 26, 2013, when her youngest, K'Myah, 1, was found dead.
Strommen originally was charged with first-degree reckless homicide, but District Attorney David O'Leary said in court Monday that it would have been hard to prove Strommen gave the methadone to her daughter.
O'Leary and defense attorney Rick Jones both recommended a lighter sentence than the one imposed by Judge Richard Werner. They called for three years in prison and five years of extended supervision.
O'Leary said Strommen had no criminal record, was a single parent who had gone back to school to get her high school equivalency diploma and held a job before her child's death.
But Strommen told a Janesville detective differing versions of what happened, O'Leary said, and the detective and the person who prepared her presentence investigation both said Strommen had not accepted responsibility for her crime, O'Leary said.
Jones disagreed, saying Strommen had accepted responsibility by pleading guilty to the reduced charge.
She knows it was her fault, and she will always be affected by that, Jones said.
“Today you will punish her for her actions. But her heart will punish her for the rest of her life,” Jones said.
In an impassioned address to the court, Jones said Strommen was depressed over the loss of her job and was thinking of bringing her family to a homeless shelter that Christmas, but she went to a friend's house instead.
Strommen always denied she gave methadone to K'Myah, but she admits she left a pill in her coat pocket in the room where her children were sleeping, leading to K'Myah's death, Jones said.
Witnesses saw K'Myah alive at about 4:30 that morning, but if she had been given the methadone before she went to bed, she would have been in a stupor, if not dead, by that time, according to medical experts, Jones said.
“She feels, as a mother, that she neglected her children,” Jones said.
How the baby got the drug will never be satisfactorily explained, O'Leary said.
Jones talked of Strommen's difficult childhood, when her mother was addicted to drugs and alcohol, an older sister did much of her upbringing and a neighbor sexually assaulted her when she was 11.
Strommen never got counseling after the assault and rarely went to school in eighth grade but was sent to high school anyway. There she encountered marijuana and alcohol, which led to other drugs and her addiction, Jones said.
She had her first child as a teenager, and she worked to provide them the kind of home she didn't have, Jones said, but she suffered from migraines, pain from bulging discs in her back and clinical depression.
Werner agreed with much of what Jones said and agreed Strommen needs drug treatment so she doesn't pose a risk to society when she is set free.
But Werner said the seriousness of the offense demanded a prison sentence.
“As a mother, you had a duty to protect her, and you didn't do that,” Werner said.
Werner gave Strommen credit for 384 days she has served in the Rock County Jail.
Strommen's mother, Tina Strommen, 52, had given the methadone pills to Tallie.
Tina pleaded guilty Feb. 18 to two counts of delivery of methadone. She is scheduled to be sentenced Friday, April 17.