Expert: Mother overmedicated her 15-month-old son

BEAUFORT -- A mother might have overmedicated her 15-month-old son, killing him, in an attempt at "chemical restraint," a toxicologist testified at the trial Tuesday of Paris Avery, 25, who is charged with homicide by child abuse.

Up to 17 extra dosages of doctor-prescribed anti-itch medication, Atarax or hydroxyzine, were given to Ra'Saan Cortez Avery Young, who was found dead at a baby sitter's house Aug. 18, 2007.

A toxicology report revealed that the boy died of acute hydroxyzine intoxication.

Demi Garvin, a forensic toxicologist with the Richland Sheriff's Department in Columbia, said she believes the child was over-medicated as a form of "chemical restraint."

Chemical restraint, she said, is when a parent or caregiver "capitalizes on the medication's ability to cause sedation or somnolence because the individual does not want to care for the child for some period of time."

A pharmacy technician at the Kmart pharmacy in Beaufort, where the child's prescription for the anti-itch medication was filled, testified that the bottle contained 120 milliliters of Atarax when it was picked up two days before the child's death.

When the bottle was found at Avery's home by Beaufort County Sheriff's deputies, it contained just 52 milliliters of the prescription.

Garvin said as many as 43 milliliters, the equivalent of 17 dosages, were unaccounted for.

A blood sample taken during the child's autopsy indicated a dangerously high level of hydroxyzine, she said.

"That concentration is approximately sixfold higher than what I would expect to see if he was taking the medication therapeutically," Garvin said.

Avery told authorities that she had followed the dosage instructions "to a tee," said Sgt. Christine Wilson, a criminal investigator with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

The medication was prescribed to be administered in one-half teaspoon dosages every six hours, as needed.

Avery told investigators she had given her son the medication at 8 a.m., 2 p.m., and "sometime after 8 p.m., but nothing more specific than that."

If found guilty, Avery faces 20 years to life in prison.

Avery has been in the Beaufort County Detention Center since she turned herself in a year ago.

In her opening statements, Deputy Solicitor Angela McCall-Tanner told the jury not to feel bad for Paris Avery.

"Sympathy is not due in this case," she said. "She is not a mother who lost a child. She is a woman who removed a child from this Earth and were it not for the actions of this woman, Ra'Saan would be here and turning 2."

Beaufort County Chief Public Defender Gene Hood reminded the jury in his opening remarks that burden of proof lies with the state.

"In this case, you'll hear the evidence the state has or the evidence it doesn't have," he said. "Remember it's not about indifference or negligence, it's an extreme indifference to the welfare of this child. Paris Avery has been waiting a long, long time for a result in this matter."

Hood is expected to call defense witnesses today when the trial resumes at 10:30 a.m. at the Beaufort County Courthouse.

The trial will likely conclude today, according to Circuit Judge Carmen Tevis Mullen.