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Drug-addicted babies in Park City earn two women time behind bars

Published January 14, 2013 5:15 pm

Park City • Adoptive parents of boy fear developmental and learning disorders.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Park City • With a flushed face and eyes welling with tears, Shea Sheeran listened Monday in court as her son's adoptive parents forgave her for abusing drugs while pregnant.

Moments later, as Sheeran stretched her shackled hand to dab her tears, 3rd District Judge Todd Shaughnessy sentenced the 27-year-old woman to one to 15 years in prison for her conviction of child endangerment, a second-degree felony.

Prosecutors charged Sheeran after she gave birth Aug. 27 to a drug-addicted baby boy. She pleaded guilty in December as part of a deal with prosecutors. The sentence will run consecutively to other unrelated prison terms, which means Sheeran could spend up to 25 years behind bars.

Prosecutor Joy Natale said during the hearing that Sheeran took cocaine, heroin and prescription drugs as late as seven months into her pregnancy. Defense attorney Paul Quinlan conceded that Sheeran had a serious drug problem.

"She has one of the worse addictions I've seen in over 20 years of doing this," Quinlan told the judge.

The child's adoptive parents, Jamie and Brandon Waters, attended the hearing and said the boy spent the first five weeks of his life in intensive care. Both parents expressed worry about their new son's potential for developmental and learning disorders.

Immediately following Sheeran's hearing, the judge sentenced Constance Villa, 25, to jail for a year, also for giving birth to a drug-addicted baby.

The baby boy was born Dec. 11, 2011, weighing 4.4 pounds and testing positive for benzodiazepines, opiates and cannabinoids. Natale the child has experienced ongoing developmental challenges and will likely face a lifetime of medical problems.

Prosecutors charged Villa with three counts of child endangerment and one count of child abuse, all second-degree felonies after the child was born. In August, Villa pleaded guilty to one second-degree felony count of child abuse, but then skipped her initial sentencing date in October.

"She was essentially AWOL for two months," Natale said Monday.

Villa finally surrendered to authorities in December.

The judge gave Villa credit for 69 days she had already spent in custody. Villa's considerably more lenient sentence resulted from her lack of criminal history. Like Sheeran, Villa spent much of her hearing weeping.

"It saddens me to hear about my son," she told the judge. "Given the opportunity today, I would definitely take everything back."

Quinlan —who also represented Villa — expressed fear during the hearings that the cases might encourage mothers to hide their pregnancies and avoid treatment. After the women were sentenced, Quinlan said he hoped the different penalties show that each person will be treated in court as an individual.

Natale said her office has charged two additional women with similar crimes. Prosecutors in other parts of the state, including Salt Lake and Utah counties, also have open cases against women suspected of taking drugs while pregnant.

jdalrymple@sltrib.com