Woman charged with first-degree murder after autopsy revealed meth in system of ‘stillborn fetus,’ authorities say

A woman who gave birth to a “stillborn fetus” in Northern California was charged with first-degree murder after the Kings County Coroner’s Office found toxic levels of methamphetamine in the fetus’ system, authorities said.

Chelsea Cheyenne Becker was arrested on Wednesday after police said they received a tip regarding her possible whereabouts from various witnesses. Becker was transported to the Kings County Jail where she was booked on murder charges.

According to a press release, the Hanford Police Department received reports from the Kings County Coroner’s Office involving the allegedly suspicious fetal death. 

Police said that when Becker delivered the stillborn fetus at a local hospital on Sept. 9, “circumstances arose which made medical professionals and other involved parties believe the stillborn fetus may have been drug exposed while the mother was pregnant.”

After an autopsy was completed by the coroner’s office, it was determined by authorities that the death was a homicide due to the fatal levels of methamphetamine that the fetus was exposed to. 

Police said that upon further investigation, it was found that Becker had a long history of alleged substance abuse in which multiple children were removed from her custody.

Becker also allegedly admitted to authorities just days before delivering the stillborn fetus that she had been under the influence of methamphetamines. 

Becker’s aunt Julie Lance told KGPE that she had adopted three of her niece’s children, alleging that Becker was using meth all throughout her pregnancies. She added that all three children had meth in their system when born, which detective Sgt. Justin Vallin of the Hanford Police Department confirmed.

“The levels of methamphetamine in this baby’s system were such high levels, even for an adult, so we believe she was using almost the whole entire time she was pregnant,” Vallin said. 

While Becker was charged with first-degree murder and held on $5,000,000 bail, Lynn Paltrow, the founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), told BuzzFeed News that interpretation of the law to prosecute pregnant women has been previously rejected in California courts.

Paltrow recalled a 1992 case in which a woman was charged with the murder of her stillborn fetus after prosecutors discovered that the unborn child had alcohol and cocaine in its system. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, Roseann Jaurigue had allegedly gone on a two-day drug and alcohol binge before delivering a stillborn child. Her case was later dismissed when the judge ruled that the child protection law did not apply to the unborn baby. 

Regarding the nearly three-decades-old case, the ACLU said, “the prosecution violated the right to privacy by intruding on a woman’s freedom to make decisions about childbearing and health care.”