By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD – A Port Orchard mother accused of giving her 11-year-old daughter the powerful drug fentanyl, which allegedly led to the girl’s death, entered a not guilty plea of controlled substances homicide in Kitsap County Superior Court on Friday.
Stephanie Ann Melton, 40, was arraigned before Judge Tina Robinson following an investigation by the Port Orchard Police Department.
“The facts of the case are astounding, disappointing and heartbreaking. I struggle to find words that capture how amazing this tragedy is,” said Chief Matt Brown of the Port Orchard Police Department.
At 3 a.m. on May 6, Port Orchard Police and South Kitsap Fire and Rescue were called to an apartment at the 100th block of Lippert Drive West for a person in distress, according to court documents.
On arrival, police officers reported seeing an 11-year-old girl laying on the living room floor, unresponsive and not breathing. Melton, who was identified as the girl’s mother, was on her knees leaning over the girl and appeared to be giving rescue breaths. (The Independent generally does not identify individuals in court reports who are minors.)
Officers began CPR until aid arrived. The girl was transported to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, where tests showed fentanyl in her system, according to court documents.
On May 9, the young girl was officially declared brain dead. She was kept on ventilation to allow time for organ harvest, police said. An autopsy report by the Kitsap County Coroner’s Office stated the girl’s death was caused by acute fentanyl toxicity, court filings stated.
According to medical experts not connected with this case, fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. The drug depresses parts of the brain that control breathing. An overdose victim can suffer breathing problems and severe drowsiness, rendering them non-responsive, which can lead to death, according to medical experts.
When police arrived at Melton’s apartment on May 6, Melton, her daughter and an acquaintance of Melton were at the residence. The 36-year-old acquaintance, who had been with the mother and daughter, gave a recorded statement to police outlining her version of events.
The witness told police that she and Melton had been smoking fentanyl that morning and that Melton gave her daughter some of the drug contents. The fentanyl came from Percocet pills broken up and placed in foil, where it was heated by a lighter. The girl had taken multiple hits of the substance, according to the witness.
The witness said she previously had gotten angry at Melton for allowing her daughter to do drugs. Melton said she “would rather have her daughter do it at home than do it on the street or where she can’t be watched,” the witness said.
After smoking the pills, Melton left the room and the girl sat in a reclining chair in the living room eating candy. The witness said she believed the girl had fallen asleep after hearing the girl snoring.
At some point, Melton returned to check on her daughter. Melton told police that when she brushed the hair away from her daughter’s face, she saw that the girl’s lips were blue. The mother said she tried to wake the girl after noticing she was not breathing. Melton then moved the girl onto the floor and began CPR.
The witness reportedly called 911 for emergency assistance.
Although the drug overdose incident took place seven months ago, Chief Brown said it takes time to develop a fatality case.
“There are toxicology tests that need to be done and that takes time, so does the additional investigation. We don’t intend to bring cases to the prosecutor that are not complete,” he said.
Detective Beth Deatherage and Sergeant Andrew Brandon headed up the investigation.
Melton’s next court date is Dec. 30. She is being held in the Kitsap County Jail on $750,000 bail.
Conviction of controlled substances homicide carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, according to the prosecutor’s filings. The maximum sentence can be higher, depending on an individual’s criminal history.