Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Utah midwife gets probation in baby’s death, cannot attend births
Courts » El Halta “played God,” says baby’s grandfather.
First Published Sep 24 2013 04:14 pm • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:34 pm

Moab • An unlicensed midwife charged in the death last year of a newborn Moab boy pleaded to reduced charges and was sentenced to probation on Tuesday.

Valerie El Halta, 71, pleaded "no contest" in 7th District Court to a reduced count of unlawful conduct and reckless endangerment, both class A misdemeanors.

At a glance

Join us for a Trib Talk

Join Trib Talk moderator Jennifer Napier-Pearce today at 12:15 p.m. for a live video chat about midwifery best practice and rules in Utah with midwife Tara Workman Tulley, obstetrician Erin Clark and Tribune reporter Erin Alberty.

You can join the discussion at sltrib.com by sending questions or comment to the hashtag #TribTalk on Twitter and Google+.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

A count of negligent homicide was dismissed.

Judge Lyle Anderson sentenced the woman to 72 months probation and ordered her to pay $78,700 in restitution.

No jail time was ordered. But El Halta, as part of her plea deal, has agreed to not practice midwifery, or mentor or train other midwives in Utah.

"Valerie, you disregarded the law and played God," the baby’s grandfather said in a brief statement in court, adding that his family believes El Halta is giving the whole community of midwives a bad name.

During the hearing, El Halta declined to address the court at length.

"What can I say?" she asked the judge.

After a brief pause, she appeared to mouth something to the court, but the judge cut her off.

"You either need to say it or not say it," he said. "To mouth it doesn’t have any effect on the court."


story continues below
story continues below

During a brief interview, defense attorney James Lee said El Halta shares the family’s grief. He said that his client has been devoted to helping women have healthy births, and he called the incident a profound tragedy.

"We’re glad to have it behind us, even though it doesn’t take away from the sadness or bring the baby back," Lee said.

Assistant Utah Attorney General David Carlson said in court that he believes the plea deal was appropriate, given El Halta’s age and the absence of a prior criminal history. The agreement also ensures that El Halta stops practicing as a midwife, thereby protecting other people from harm, Carlson said. It will also provide restitution for the victims in this case, he said.

"We feel, as part of this agreement, we’ve achieved those goals," he said.

El Halta, of Eagle Mountain, was charged in June with unlawful conduct, a felony for which she could serve up to five years in prison. She was also charged with negligent homicide and reckless endangerment, both misdemeanors that carry a jail sentence of up to one year.

El Halta has never been licensed in Utah, according to the Utah Division of Professional Licensing. Yet according to the charges, she administered prescription medications, used sutures and employed a medical device known as a vacuum — which pulls a newborn from the birth canal — that should only be used by a licensed medical professional.

These methods were allegedly used during a high-risk delivery at a Moab mother’s home, which investigators alleged is off-limits to even licensed midwives under Utah law. And El Halta knew the 41-year-old mother had three prior Caesarean-section births, which made conducting the impending delivery at the home a risk, according to the charges.

El Halta arrived at the Moab home on Aug. 17, 2012, when the mother was in labor. She allegedly gave the woman prescription pills, Cytotec, that "amped up her labor," according to the charges.

The labor continued into Aug. 18. And by evening, El Halta seemed to become anxious that the mother’s labor wasn’t progressing. She exclaimed "let’s get this show on the road" and performed a vaginal exam that caused the mother substantial pain, according to the charges.

"[El Halta] explained that she was ‘breaking scar tissue’ and ‘just moving things along.’ The mother’s membranes ruptured and she and her husband perceived that the defendant began rushing to get the delivery done," the charges read.

Evening turned to night, and the baby crowned as the mother pushed, but slipped back when the mother changed positions. El Halta left the room for a few minutes to give the parents some time alone, but when she returned she discovered that the newborn had no fetal heart tones, the charges add.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.