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Police: Athens mom claims mental health condition caused her to smother child

Decatur Daily - 4/14/2017

April 14--ATHENS -- A mom who confessed to smothering her 4-year-old daughter told police this week she had not taken medicine for her mental condition in three days at the time of the death, according to Athens police.

Police said Stephanie Diane Smith, 25, of 12166 Lakeview St., Athens, showed up at the Athens Police Department on Wednesday and said she wanted to confess to killing her daughter, Zadie Cooper, who died July 7, 2016. She was charged with capital murder later that day.

Smith told investigators she lied to police initially because she was "scared of what would happen to me," police Chief Floyd Johnson said. Smith told investigators Wednesday she has a mental condition and didn't realize at the time what she was doing to her daughter, according to the police statement.

"You've got to feel for her," Johnson said. "She's got some issues she's dealing with. This would be hard on anyone who didn't have issues, so it's definitely going to be hard on her."

Johnson said Smith told investigators "she would hurt herself if she didn't come tell this. It affected her that dramatically."

Smith was remorseful during her interview with investigators and seemed "in a very good frame of mind" Wednesday, he said.

Before she came to the Police Department, she texted a confession of her actions to five of her friends -- and one of those friends reported the information to police, records show.

Information on her mental health treatment was unavailable, but Johnson said Smith listed multiple different medications during the interview. She also mentioned a therapist during the interview, he said.

"She said she sees red. And when she sees red, she doesn't know what happens until it goes away," Johnson said.

Multiple family members confirmed Smith's long-term struggle with mental health, he said.

Before Smith's confession, police were waiting on some of Zadie's subpoenaed medical records in order to continue the investigation. The results of a private autopsy did not reveal the cause of death, police said.

Johnson said the department's next step would have been for another pathologist to review the medical records in order to find a possible cause of death.

Smith initially told investigators she heard something on the baby monitor and found Zadie between the bed and wall, and she was not breathing, records show.

Smith provided the same sequence of events during an October 2016 interview with police investigators and the Department of Human Resources, Johnson said.

According to police, Smith called 911 on July 4, 2016, and reported her daughter was not breathing. Athens Police, Athens Fire and Rescue and EMS responded. At the time, Smith and her daughter lived in an apartment on Elm Street, police said.

The mom performed CPR upon instruction from a 911 operator, but Athens firefighters took over performing CPR until an ambulance arrived to transport the child to Athens-Limestone Hospital, according to the police statement. The child was transferred to Huntsville Hospital later that day.

Huntsville Hospital performed a series of tests and determined there was no brain activity, and on July 7, the family removed the girl from life support, according to police. Zadie was pronounced dead shortly afterward.

Police will continue gathering medical records and interviewing the mother's family and friends, Johnson said.

Athens police charged Smith with capital murder due to the age of the child, per Alabama law, Johnson said.

Smith will not be released from jail because capital murder is a non-bailable offense, according to court records. Under Alabama law, the murder of a victim less than 14 years old is capital murder. If convicted of the charge, Smith faces either life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.

Court records show Roger Garry Clem was appointed to represent Smith. Clem could not be reached for comment Thursday.

A preliminary hearing for the case is set for 1:30 p.m.May 2 at the Limestone County Courthouse. or 256-340-2446.


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