Despite recommendations for leniency from defense and prosecuting attorneys alike, a Tooele mother whose toddler died after ingesting her methadone will serve prison time.
Jill Goff was somber in court Tuesday morning as 3rd District Court Judge Robert Adkins, Tooele County Chief Deputy Attorney Gary Searle, and defense attorney Jacob Linares, debated over how long she should be incarcerated and where.
Last January, Goff, 33, gave her 2-year-old son, Aiden, a sippy cup she said she had inadvertently filled with methadone from an old Gatorade bottle. Goff said she used the Gatorade bottle to make it easier to keep the methadone in a locked box.
When the 2-year-old would not finish the drink, Goff gave it to her 5-year-old daughter to try, who also complained of the taste. Goff said it was not until she gave it to her 8-year-old son, who said it tasted like medicine, that she realized her error.
She did not call for medical help but gave the 2-year-old water and put him down for a nap. About three hours later, the boy’s 14-year-old brother noticed the toddler was not breathing.
Several hours later, the 8-year-old was taken to the emergency room at Mountain West Medical Center with complaints of a rash and swollen eyes. Analysis of the boy’s urine showed the presence of methadone, prompting medical personnel to examine the 5-year-old girl, as well. An autopsy of the 2-year-old confirmed the methadone had been his cause of death.
Methadone is a synthetic opioid typically prescribed to mitigate withdrawal symptoms from addictions to opiates, such as heroin, morphine or opioide painkillers. Goff’s methadone had been legally prescribed to her.
Goff was charged with child abuse homicide, a second-degree felony, and pleaded guilty to that charge on June 10. A second-degree felony carries with it a term of 1-15 years in the Utah State Prison; however, attorneys on both sides of the aisle recommended Goff instead serve a year in the Tooele County Detention Center and engage in probation and counseling.
Much of the debate in court regarding Goff’s sentence centered on one of two points: That the mix-up of Gatorade for methadone was unintentional, and that Goff practiced criminal negligence in not seeking medical attention.
Linares said Goff has been struggling to deal with the loss of her son without having access to family, and that she was not able to attend her son’s funeral because she was in jail.
“This is an unfortunate, horrific accident she suffered along with the rest of the family,” Linares said, noting Goff has also been trying to deal with mental health issues. “She’s tried to cope and process this on her own. She’s accepted responsibility. She’s admitted she neglected to call 911, and that that delay ultimately cost the child his life.”
Linares said Goff’s lack of a criminal record, and willingness to be on probation and undergo counseling and treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues, makes her a good candidate for the lesser recommendation.
“This was not an intentional act,” he said. “It was a criminally negligent act. I think that difference should carry a lot of weight with the court.”
Searle said while the end result of Goff’s actions resulted in the death of her child, he did not believe she intended to kill her son and should not be punished as such. He said he believed her mindset as a drug addict inhibited her from realizing the severity of the situation.
“Had she called law enforcement, had she called 911, had she called for medical help, I don’t know that we wouldn’t be standing here today, but I do believe the child would have had a fighting chance if professionals had been able to intervene,” he said. “But I don’t know what purpose [a prison sentence] would serve to the family, to society. It’s not going to serve anything in my mind but the thirst for vengeance when a person is killed.”
“I just believe that there’s a punishment to be paid, but I don’t think it’s 15 years in prison,” he added, noting that Goff’s other children would likely still want to have a relationship with their mother that did not take place behind bars.
However, Goff’s sister-in-law Camille Nielson, who represented the Goff family, said she did not believe Goff should be given leniency.
“Everybody just keeps saying this was an accident. It wasn’t an accident,” said Nielson. “She laid him down knowing he had overdosed and let him die, and then let [the 14-year-old boy] pick him up and find out he’d died.”
She added, “I don’t think Jill was trying to kill her kids by any means; I do know she made the choice to let Aiden die, and I feel like she should suffer the consequences for that like the rest of us have to.”
Nielson also asked the court to not allow Goff to be alone with her children in the future.
Adkins, who asked several follow-up questions regarding Goff’s storage of methadone in the bottle, and how medical personnel discovered the presence of methadone in the other two children, said he believed Goff’s negligence was more compelling than her lack of malicious intent.
“It doesn’t appear you intentionally gave methadone to your child,” he said. “But certainly there was criminal negligence with that methadone, a very dangerous drug to be taken out of its original container and placed into a juice bottle or soft drink bottle. The court is extremely concerned with your lack of doing anything after your child had consumed the methadone, even after the second child had had some.”
Adkins sentenced Goff to one to 15 years in prison, and encouraged her to participate in counseling, substance abuse programs and educational opportunities like getting her GED or college degree.
Goff has 30 days to file an appeal against the sentence.