Trial for midwife charged with manslaughter gets underway

Mike Edwards, deputy county attorney, provides an opening statement to the jury during the State of Utah v. Sorensen trial at the 5th District Court, Cedar City, Utah, Oct. 19, 2016 | Photo by 5th District Court video pool, St. George / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY – After nearly three days of jury selection, the trial of a Cedar City midwife accused of manslaughter involving the 2012 death of a premature infant officially began Wednesday afternoon.

Vickie Sorensen listens to opening statements during the State of Utah v. Sorensen trial at the Fifth District Court in Cedar City, Utah, Oct. 19, 2016 | Photo by 5th District Court video pool, St. George / Cedar City News
Vickie Sorensen listens to opening statements during the State of Utah v. Sorensen trial at the 5th District Court, Cedar City, Utah, Oct. 19, 2016 | Photo by 5th District Court video pool (Jordan Allred), St. George / Cedar City News

The courtroom was filled with family and supporters of the defendant, Vickie Sorensen, anxious to see the trial finally begin after waiting two and a half days for jury selection to close before the court would allow them in the courtroom for opening arguments.

Sorensen, 56, is charged with two misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment and a second-degree felony for manslaughter. She is facing a possible maximum sentence of 15 years in the Utah State Prison, if convicted.

The case stems from charges filed in 2014, nearly two years after the death of the child. During that time, Sorensen’s supporters raised money for her legal defense in addition to $50,000 for her bail following her arrest.

Deputy Iron County Attorney Mike Edwards started his opening statement by recounting how the mother sought prenatal care and midwife services from Sorensen for the birth of their second child. The parents had hired Sorensen just a few years earlier to deliver their first child at home.

The couple later found out they were expecting twins, and despite their concerns about whether the twins could safely be delivered outside of a hospital, Sorensen continued to reassure the parents it would a “routine delivery,” Edwards alleged.

According to the prosecutor, Sorensen assured the couple she would not deliver the babies until the mother was at least 36 weeks along.

While the mother wasn’t due until February, she began experiencing early contractions Dec. 17.

Edwards described how the couple sought the help of Sorensen multiple times that day only to be told to take an Epsom bath, eat and try to sleep, as it was just the babies “moving into position” to prepare for the birth in two months.

The contractions continued into the next day, when Sorensen sought the help of a fellow doctor to administer a magnesium IV in order to slow down the labor. However, the doctor was not experienced with administering the medication, Edwards said, and was forced to contact another medical provider for assistance. The IV failed.

Sorensen then allegedly told the parents she would have to deliver the babies that night at her birthing center, again reassuring them everything was fine. However, the first baby was breech. Edwards told the jury that Sorensen instructed the mother to do whatever she could to help move the baby into the proper position, including squats and a warm bath, to avoid having to push during labor.

Douglas Terry, a defense attorney, provides an opening statement to the jury during the State of Utah v. Sorensen trial at the Fifth District Court in Cedar City, Utah, Oct. 19, 2016 | Photo by 5th District Court video pool, St. George / Cedar City News
Douglas Terry, a defense attorney, provides an opening statement to the jury during the State of Utah v. Sorensen trial at the 5th District Court, Cedar City, Utah, Oct. 19, 2016 | Photo by 5th District Court video pool (Jordan Allred), St. George / Cedar City News

The first baby was born at 33 weeks in the birthing center, seven weeks too early and struggling. Edwards described the child as “small, discolored and without a single cry.”

Sorensen was allegedly not equipped to deal with the crisis, as she did not have an oxygen mask or a suction device small enough to provide air to the premature baby.

An ambulance arrived to transport the baby and mother to then-Valley View Medical Center, at which time Sorensen allegedly told emergency responders she didn’t have any medical history on the mother nor her due date. She also failed to tell them the mother was still in labor with the second child, Edwards said.

According to the charging documents in the case, the child died shortly after arriving at the hospital. The second baby was delivered by cesarean section and immediately transported to the neonatal intensive care unit in St. George at Dixie Regional Medical Center.

“Because they had the equipment and training they needed, (the second baby) survived,” Edwards said, arguing the first baby died due to a lack of necessary equipment and Sorensen’s negligence.

Court documents state that several medical providers said the same and that it was “out of the skill set of some OB/GYN physicians to try and deliver the twins, let alone a lay midwife.”

Defense attorney Doug Terry didn’t dispute the chronological events of the birth but did argue against the allegations that Sorensen did not do enough to prevent the premature birth and death of the baby. Terry pointed to the snowy weather conditions as the reason for the delay.

“All efforts were made to stop that birth until they could get her to a hospital,” he said. “It was the lousy snowy day that was the factor in this situation.”

He argued that Sorensen did not intend for the baby to die and did everything she could to save the baby.

“This is a tragic event in the lives of the (victim’s family) and my client,” Terry said. “Nothing we do will bring back (child’s name). But hopefully this trial will bring closure to both parties.”

Check back with Cedar City News for continued coverage of Sorensen’s trial.

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @tracie_sullivan

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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