EVERETT — Prosecutors are declining for now to file criminal charges in the December death of a 3-month-old Madilynn Schreib. The girl suffered multiple broken bones before succumbing to meningitis.
The baby had been living in an Everett motel with her teenage mother, the woman’s boyfriend and his three daughters, ages 11, 13 and 14. Madilynn died Dec. 20, a couple of days after she was airlifted to Seattle Children’s Hospital.
At the time of her death, Madilynn was considered abandoned. Her mother had failed to return to the hospital despite being told about plans to remove Madilynn from life support. Her father hadn’t been involved in her life, according to a state social worker.
“It is clear that this infant suffered an unconscionable lifestyle and was the victim of non-accidental trauma. It is tremendously disheartening that the law does not offer a vehicle to hold (her) caretakers criminally accountable for what she endured,” Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Laura Twitchell wrote in a letter to Everett police detectives.
Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe said Wednesday that the medical evidence doesn’t rule out that the child died solely from natural causes. If human hands did cause Madilynn’s death, prosecutors still must prove whose hands are responsible, he said.
“We’re not there. It’s irresponsible to go forward if we don’t have the evidence to support a crime,” Roe said.
According to court documents, Jerrica Schreib called 911 Dec. 18 after Madilynn became unresponsive. Schreib and her boyfriend, both drug users, argued about whether to seek help, according to state Department of Social and Health Services records. They “only called when the 11-year-old child encouraged (them) to call 911, and told (them) the infant might die,” a social worker wrote.
The pair has been investigated in the past by Child Protective Services.
Doctors discovered that nearly every one of Madilynn’s ribs had been broken and were in various stages of healing. They also discovered that her left arm was fractured, likely from a twisting or pulling motion. She had a black eye and a deep gash under her chin. Madilynn’s urine tested positive for methamphetamine at the hospital.
Everett detectives arrested Schreib, then 19, and Donald Coons, 42, in January, alleging that they abused Madilynn. The couple denied hurting the child.
They were released from jail while Everett detectives continued to investigate. Meanwhile both racked up pending drug charges stemming from arrests after Madilynn’s death.
The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office later concluded that the baby died of meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis, a complication arising from infection. The medical examiner listed nonaccidental trauma as a contributing factor. He classified Madilynn’s death a homicide.
Prosecutors, however, noted that meningitis and pneumonia are natural causes, and doctors couldn’t say with any degree of certainty the baby would have survived those conditions even if her bones hadn’t been broken. Additionally, the autopsy didn’t confirm the presence of methamphetamine.
There is evidence that the girl suffered non accidental trauma and was exposed to meth, but prosecutors “cannot establish beyond a reasonable doubt that any act of any one person caused (Madilynn’s) death,” Twitchell wrote in the May 19 letter.
The case was discussed on multiple occasions with law enforcement and among prosecutors, according to the letter. Two meetings were held at Children’s Hospital that included police, prosecutors, doctors, medical staff, state social workers and other members of the hospital’s Child Protection Team.
The state’s Child Protective Services conducted its own investigation. Social workers determined that the abuse and neglect allegations were founded, according to state records obtained by The Herald. Under the law, the threshold for a finding of abuse or neglect is lower in CPS investigations than criminal prosecutions.
Prosecutors contemplated charging Schreib and Coons with murder, manslaughter, assault of a child, criminal mistreatment and endangerment by a controlled substance.
“Regrettably, we cannot overcome the basic premise that there is no evidence to show that any specific person’s actions resulted in the injury or death to (the infant),” Twitchell wrote.
Schreib, Coons and his daughters shared caretaking duties for the girl. There is no way to pinpoint who is responsible for Madilynn’s broken bones, Twitchell wrote.
To charge the couple with criminal mistreatment, prosecutors would have to prove that Madilynn suffered great bodily harm because her mother and Coons withheld the basic necessities of life.
Doctors explained that the pair provided reasonable treatment based on her symptoms. Initially meningitis often mimics the flu or a cold. The condition would worsen quickly in a child so young, Twitchell wrote.
Schreib said Madilynn was colicky and she gave the baby some gripe water, an over-the-counter remedy. The infant became unresponsive and a nurse told her to call 911.
There isn’t evidence of a specific action proving that Schreib or Coons withheld an obvious need, Twitchell wrote.
The investigation revealed that Schreib and Coons were aware that Madilynn had an injured arm. They wrapped it with a bandage, which doctors said, would be considered medically reasonable treatment, Twitchell wrote.
Even if they ignored the broken arm and withheld treatment, it didn’t result in the girl’s death and wouldn’t have caused any sort of permanent disfigurement, according to the deputy prosecutor.
“If, at any point, additional relevant evidence comes to light, please do no hesitate to forward it to me, and I will reconsider filing criminal charges,” Twitchell wrote Everett detectives.
The deputy prosecutor checked a box on the notification letter that read: “In all likelihood this case will never be fileable.”
Roe isn’t giving up that someday the truth will come out.
“I have to believe that out of the five people living with the child at least one of them loved her and feels terrible about the injuries that were inflicted,” Roe said. “I hope and believe at some point that person’s conscience will get to them. Madilynn deserves someone to be held accountable for her injuries.”