INDIANAPOLIS -- An Indiana woman whose 16-year-old son committed suicide in July was charged Thursday with neglect after prosecutors determined there wasn't enough evidence to support a rarely used charge that would have alleged her drug use drove the teen to take his own life.
Delaware County prosecutors filed a single count of neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury against Sabrina A. Howard, 40, in the death of her son. Police said the teen died July 11 from an overdose of Howard's prescription medication.
The Muncie woman remained jailed without bond Thursday pending a Monday initial court hearing. Jail records listed no attorney for Howard.
She was arrested Monday on preliminary charges of neglect of a dependent and causing suicide -- a rarely used Indiana law that's been on the books since 1976.
A probable cause affidavit states that relatives told police Howard was a morphine addict and her son, Charles Howard, "was in great duress" from confronting her repeatedly over her addiction and his fears that she might overdose and he would find her dead.
Indiana's law outlining the causing suicide charge states that the felony count can be used against "a person who intentionally causes another human being, by force, duress, or deception, to commit suicide."
But Chief Trial Deputy Prosecutor Eric Hoffman said that the evidence did not support that charge against Sabrina Howard.
"I think the statute what it really contemplates is if I somehow want you to commit suicide and I want you to die then I force you to kill yourself by physical force, by duress or somehow by deception. And that really didn't fit this fact pattern," Hoffman said.
Prosecutors instead allege in their neglect charge that Howard endangered the life or health of her son and knowingly failed to provide necessary support to him.
"In this case, support means medical care," Hoffman said.
According to the affidavit, Howard told officers on July 10 after finding her son unresponsive on a couch in their home that she thought he had taken her pills, including 30 of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and 26 of the painkiller Lortab. Charles Howard died the following day and his death was ruled a suicide attributed to high levels of prescription medications.
In an interview with police days later, Howard said she confronted her son the morning of July 10 about her missing drugs, the affidavit states. She said he denied taking them but she suspected otherwise because he had slow speech and was "groggy acting."
"Sabrina even told Charles that what he consumed could kill him," the affidavit says.
But Howard allegedly did not seek medical help for her son, instead telling police she checked on him periodically during the day as he slept on a couch to make sure "he was still breathing," the document says.
She called 911 after finding him not breathing and with a grayish/white skin color, the document says.
Hoffman said that he cannot discuss the details of the case but said Charles Howard's death is sad and tragic.
"Anytime somebody that young, 16 years old and with a bright future ahead of them, dies unexpectedly and needlessly, that's definitely a tragedy," he said.