A Houston man who soothed his teething son with cocaine-tainted fingers was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for the infant's death.
Dennis Ray Driver, 26, was convicted of felony murder for the overdose death of his 8-month-old son, Dennis Jr.
"He was a frequent possessor of cocaine," said prosecutor Murray Newman. The jury also fined Driver $10,000.
Newman said Driver told investigators that he had chopped up cocaine the night before and the baby sucked on his fingers.
Newman said medical testimony showed that a trace amount of cocaine could have caused acute cocaine toxicity in the baby, who had metabolized cocaine in his blood stream and undigested cocaine in his stomach.
The charge, felony murder, alleged that the infant's death occurred because Driver committed acts that endangered his son's life while committing a felony.
Capital murder, on the other hand, would have required prosecutors to prove the killing was intentional.
Driver told investigators he fell asleep on Dec. 28 with his son lying on his chest at their apartment in the 5600 block of Selinsky.
When Driver awoke, he found the baby wasn't breathing. He died at Ben Taub General Hospital the next day.
Newman said he didn't believe Driver fed the cocaine to his son but allowed the child to come in contact with the narcotics.
"We weren't trying to prove that he intentionally caused the death," Newman said. "This sends a message to parents to protect their children from any contact with illegal drugs."
Driver was disappointed with the verdict and the sentence, his attorney Hattie Shannon said. She said he maintained his innocence through the trial.
Newman said Driver had at least eight previous convictions, including six that were related to cocaine.
The baby's death occurred while Driver was free on bond on a cocaine possession charge.
He was sentenced to 180 days in jail in July 2006 for drug possession and was given a two-year prison term in 2004, also for cocaine.