An Allegheny County prosecutor said a West Virginia mother showed "an extreme indifference to the value of human life" when she tried to suffocate her infant at a local hospital and several times in her Boone County home last year.
Rachel Nelson, 23, of Costa, who appeared for a preliminary hearing Wednesday in an Allegheny County Jail jumpsuit, was held for trial.
She has been charged with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child. She is accused of trying to suffocate her then 4-month-old son at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and in her home last fall.
Detectives interviewed Ms. Nelson and the boy's father, Shawn Nelson, 43, and suspect the boy was smothered numerous times in West Virginia between August and October and at least twice after he was admitted to the hospital, police said.
Pittsburgh police Detective Bryan Sellers testified Wednesday 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.
Police wrote in a criminal complaint that the boy was transferred to Children's Hospital on Oct. 18 for "repeated episodes of apnea and hypoxia and concerns of medical child abuse."
The next day, the boy's father woke up in the hospital room to find the infant blue and not breathing. He told police Ms. Nelson was the only person awake in the hospital room at the time.
Staff revived the boy and transferred him to the intensive care unit, where he "again was discovered limp and breathing abnormally" on Oct. 20, according to the complaint. Doctors gave the boy oxygen for 30 minutes and then reviewed video surveillance, which showed that Ms. Nelson was alone in the room with her son at the time and "blocking the view" of the boy, investigators wrote.
Ms. Nelson's public defender, Sean Link, argued the case had too much "inference and speculation." He had no comment after the hearing.
Rachel Berger, a physician with the hospital's child protection team, testified that no medical issue could account for the child's condition.
Since being removed from his mother's custody in October, the boy has been healthy and returned to West Virginia.
Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1944.