Woman who stuffed cotton in baby's mouth sentenced to 10 years in prison

Chevonne Deandra Younginer, 19, of Summerville, pleaded guilty Thursday to attempted murder.

The woman who was caught on camera stuffing cotton in her baby's mouth in 2012 said she doesn't know why she did it.

Chevonne Deandra Younginer, 19, of Summerville, pleaded guilty in a Charleston courtroom Thursday afternoon to attempted murder.

She was originally charged with child neglect and the charge was upgraded to attempted homicide by child abuse in January 2013.

The plea agreement to the charge of attempted murder meant she faced up to 30 years in prison. Circuit Judge Roger Young sentenced her to 10 years in prison and five years of probation to include mental health treatment.

Younginer's 6-month-old daughter was checked into the Medical University Hospital in January 2012. Doctors weren't sure what was wrong with her.

She'd been transported to the hospital several times for being unresponsive, but they had no idea what was leading to the episodes. So doctors decided to closely monitor her at MUSC.

On Feb. 3, 2012, Younginer, who was 17 at the time, was in her daughter's hospital room. She lowered the bed rail and hovered over her daughter's bed.

Younginer, who had a stuffed toy in her hand, pulled a piece of cotton from it, and put it in her baby's mouth, according to prosecutors.

After walking away, the baby started playing and sucking on the cotton ball, so Younginer stuffed the cotton further down her throat, 9th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Debbie Herring-Lash told the judge.

The baby started choking until a nurse dislodged the item, authorities said.

The entire episode was caught on camera by the monitor that doctors had ordered in hopes of finding the root of her medical issues. The problem was her mother, according to prosecutors.

When asked by the judge during her hearing what she'd been thinking at the time, Younginer said she'd been distraught with family issues.

"I was just thinking about everything I had going on," Younginer told the judge. "Having a baby, I was treated differently at home."

Between 2011 and 2012, EMS had responded to the baby being unresponsive six times, prosecutors said.

Herring-Lash said during each of those occurrences, Younginer was present. Herring-Lash did not specify what led to each incident but said it could have been smothering or cutting off the baby's air supply.

When Young pressed Younginer harder about why she was doing this to her daughter, the mother couldn't say why.

"I can't answer that honestly," she said.

Younginer's attorney, Steve Davis, said the teen mother was sick herself, dealing with mental health issues as well as the stress of her parents' disapproval of her pregnancy at 17.

"She has been punished," Davis told the judge before the sentencing.

Younginer has lost parental rights of her baby since the incident and the child is the custody of the baby's father and his mother, Deborah Moore.

During the hearing, Moore told the judge, even now, at 2 1/2 years old, when she or her son dress the child, if they don't get her shirt over her head quickly, she begins to scream.

"We could have been at an infant's funeral," she said. "She could have become a medical vegetable."

Young called this a difficult case of a mother acting at odds with the instinctive nature of protection and instead harming her child.

"You can't come up with an explanation," he told Younginer. "You honestly probably don't know or can't say why you did. I suspect to end your problems and go back to being a teenager."

Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.