West Virginia woman accused of smothering child at home and in Pittsburgh held for trial

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A West Virginia woman accused of trying to suffocate her then 4-month-old son at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and in her Boone County home last fall will stand trial.

Rachel Nelson, 23, has been charged with aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person and endangering the welfare of a child. She appeared for a preliminary hearing this afternoon in an Allegheny County Jail jumpsuit.

Allegheny County assistant district attorney Lisa Carey said Ms. Nelson showed "an extreme indifference to the value of human life" when she smothered her son at the hospital and several times in her West Virginia home last year.

Detectives interviewed Ms. Nelson and the boy's 43-year-old father, Shawn Nelson, and suspect the boy was smothered numerous times in that state between August and October and at least twice since he was admitted to the hospital, police said.

Pittsburgh police Detective Bryan Sellers testified today that Ms. Nelson said in interviews that she blacked out during some of the episodes in which her son stopped breathing.

She later told the detective she was, in fact, lucid and remembered holding her son to her chest "until she felt him go limp," he said.

She also told the detective she took an anti-depressant medication.

Last fall, police said the boy father's woke up in the hospital room to find the infant blue. The boy's father rushed to get a nurse and said Ms. Nelson was the only person awake in the hospital room at the time.

Ms. Nelson's public defender, Sean Link, argued the case had too much "inference and speculation."

He had no comment after the hearing.

Dr. Rachel Berger of the hospital's child protection team testified that no medical issue could account for this child's condition.

Since being removed from his mother's custody in October, the boy has been healthy and returned to West Virginia.

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Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1944 and on Twitter: @borntolede.


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