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Mother who forced kids to take pot gets 3 years.

Byline: Bill Bishop The Register-Guard

In a case a judge described as "a road map to the failures in society," a woman with a long history of mental illness was sentenced Thursday to almost three years in prison for blowing marijuana smoke into the lungs of her children, ages 6 and 8.

The crimes happened in 2003 nearly every time the children's father, who has custody of the children, allowed them to visit with their mother, 27-year-old Rebecca Marie Best, Deputy Lane County District Attorney Debra Vogt said in court.

A neighbor suspected the activity and reported it to the children's stepmother, who relayed it to the children's father. He questioned the children and then reported it to police, Vogt said.

In police interviews, the children reported their mother said she wanted them to "settle down," although the children said they were usually engaged in normal play when their mother would get out the marijuana pipe, Vogt said. The children said it hurt their lungs, Vogt added.

"She seals her mouth over theirs and then blows it down their throats," Vogt said. "It happened many times."

When Best learned that police were investigating, she fled to her former home in Tennessee, where she was easily found, Vogt said.

At first, Best told police she gave the children marijuana after they caught her smoking it and became curious. Best claimed that she thought they would be less likely to use it with strangers if she gave it to them first, Vogt said. She later admitted that the children were truthful.

Best pleaded guilty to two counts of application of a controlled substance to the body of another, a class A felony carrying a sentence of 34 to 36 months for a first-offender. Other charges were dropped in a plea deal.

Defense lawyer Herb Evans repeatedly acknowledged that Best's offenses were "egregious" and will have a lasting psychological impact on the children.

However, he asked Lane County Circuit Judge Ted Carp to consider the broader connotation of justice as being the means to improve the human condition.

He also questioned the wisdom of expending so many tax dollars to extradite, hold, prosecute and imprison a woman with lifelong mental problems when she agreed in a settlement proposal to voluntarily terminate her parental rights, to never see the children again and to voluntarily commit herself for mental health treatment.

Evans submitted mental health records documenting Best's diagnoses of schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder from repeated early childhood sexual abuse, panic disorder, agoraphobia, borderline personality disorder, marijuana dependence and low intelligence.

Evans also documented her history of suicide attempts, self-mutilation and depression.

He said Best lost her prescription drugs when the Oregon Health Plan was cut back after voters rejected Measure 30, a three-year, $800 million income tax increase, in February.

"Maybe the easy way out is three years in prison," Evans told the judge.

But he asked Carp to consider probation, with requirements that Best undergo mental health treatment and have no contact with her children. However, he said he had not yet found a suitable place for her to live if she were on probation because she has no money, no family and few friends in the area.

Court records show that Best was pregnant with her first child when she married at age 17. She was pregnant with her second child when she moved to Cottage Grove in 1997. She divorced in 1999 and has had ongoing financial problems.

Best was almost finished applying for Supplemental Security Income, the federal program for elderly and disabled people to help pay for basic needs, when she left the area, according to court records.

"I dispute the fact she ran. She just went home to mom," Evans said.

Asked by Carp to comment in court, Best said in a barely audible voice, "I'm very sorry."

Carp said he found Best's plight "quite moving." However, he said there were no suitable alternatives for keeping her in the community to deal with the issues.

"There is no plan I can look to that would lead to any positive result," he said in court.

He noted the traditional roles of the prosecutor to punish crime and the courts to express the community's moral outrage. He described Best's conduct as "clearly evil."

Carp sentenced Best to 34 months in prison, the shortest sentence prescribed by state sentencing guidelines for the crime, and recommended that she be afforded any mental health or other programs available in prison. He put her on three years of post-prison supervision.

Carp said Best's case illustrates society's failures.

"We care about kids when they're kids," he said. "When they grow up, we don't care about them anymore."
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Title Annotation:Crime; A local woman with a history of mental illness says she wanted to calm the children
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 6, 2004
Next Article:What about Plan C?

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