CEDAR CITY – A Cedar City midwife found guilty of manslaughter in the death of a premature infant in 2012 was sentenced Tuesday to probation and 180 days in the Iron County Jail.
Vickie Dawn Sorensen, 57, was convicted in October by a jury for second-degree felony manslaughter in addition to one misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment.
Sorensen’s charges were in connection with the 2012 death of a premature twin infant that a jury found was caused due to recklessness on the part of the lay midwife.
Sorensen delivered the first baby at her Cedar City birthing center when the mother was approximately only seven months along. Prosecutors argue Sorensen should have immediately transported the laboring mother to the hospital where skilled medical professionals had the training and equipment necessary to safely deliver both twins.
The mother delivered the second twin at Cedar City Hospital via a cesarean section. The second baby was then sent to the neonatal intensive care unit at Dixie Regional Medical Center. He survived.
Fifth District Judge James Shumate sentenced Sorensen to serve a concurrent zero to 15 years in the Utah State Prison and one year in the Iron County Correctional Facility.
Shumate opted to suspend the execution of that sentence alternatively ordering Sorensen to serve 180 days in the local jail. Sorensen is expected to complete that time in the next 36 months while she remains under supervised probation of the Utah Department of Adult Probation and Parole.
Sorensen is also prohibited from practicing midwifery or assisting in any future deliveries excluding the births of blood relatives. She is permitted however to continue her career as an herbalist.
Additionally, Shumate stayed a $23,836 fine and instead handed down a sentence of $86. However, the judge left the issue of restitution open for the state to request future funeral expenses for the victim’s family.
The senior judge said his decision in sentencing Sorensen was made, in part, in recognizing that courtroom justice fell short in this case as there was nothing the courts could do to bring back the now-deceased infant.
While addressing a packed courtroom filled with both Sorensen’s supporters and family members of the victim, Shumate called this case one of the most difficult he has overseen. The presentence investigation report alone, he said, was the longest he had ever read since being appointed to the bench 27 years ago and as a practicing attorney several years prior to that.
“I have never experienced a case as difficult as this one,” Shumate said. “I’ve spent more time concerned about this than I can recall. And that’s 42 years in the law.”
Deputy Iron County Attorney Mike Edwards echoed the judge’s sentiments, acknowledging that he had had trouble sleeping the night before as he processed the next day’s court hearing.
Still, Edwards asked the court to abide by the state’s sentencing guidelines arguing that the baby would still be here had it not been for the reckless actions of the lay midwife.
“The evidence before the court in the trial and finding of the jury was that the defendant recklessly caused the death of (the victim),” Edwards said. “And without the conduct of the defendant he (the baby) would be alive today.”
He pointed to multiple testimonies during the trial from witnesses who also indicated Sorensen’s actions that night were “reckless.”
“I’m not saying she intended for anyone to die, but she has a history of hurting with her reckless conduct . . .,” Edwards said. “This has to stop.”
Shumate later recognized the same, stating he believed Sorensen demonstrated “errors of judgment” on the night in question.
“There was not a sufficient setting or urgency in your behavior that evening,” Shumate said.
Defense attorney Matt Carling, who represented Sorensen at sentencing, argued the case was nothing more than a “witch hunt,” designed to eliminate the midwife from the competition in the professional medical community.
“We know for a fact that other people involved with Vickie were coerced and threatened if they didn’t cooperate with law enforcement,” Carling said. “The corporate medical machine wanted the competition eliminated in Iron County.”
Carling, who took nearly 18 minutes to plead for the court’s mercy on behalf of his client, detailed the case starting from the initial 2013 search executed at the midwife’s home in Enoch where it was alleged Sorensen had clandestine graves in her backyard.
“This is really an old story,” Carling said. “Many victims of the medieval European witch hunts were traditional midwifes. But this is the 21st century. Now we conduct home raids rather than putting someone up on a pyre.”
Likening the infant’s death to those that occur while the mother is in labor while under the care of professionals, Carling said doctors are often sued in civil court for the death of a child during delivery but never criminally prosecuted. As proof of this, Carling pointed to the fact that there was no record of any investigations in the Iron County Attorney’s Office in connection with the death of an infant by a licensed physician or malpractice claims.
Carling asked the court to “stop the witch hunts” and dismiss the charges against his client.
Edwards called Carling’s statement “offensive, astounding and inaccurate.” He argued that it only further showed the unwillingness of the defendant to accept responsibility for her actions and proved the need for the court to follow the sentencing guidelines.
“She’s aware of her own conduct … and the fact that she’s still not willing to accept responsibility should be a concern for the court,” Edwards said. “And the fact that she still does not recognize what she did was wrong should be a concern for the court and for the safety of this community.”
Edwards referred to some of the evidence in the trial that he said proved Sorensen is not the victim in this case, as she would like the public to believe.
“They (Vickie and her attorney) want this court to think this was all a witch hunt, to use their words,” Edwards said.
In addressing the court, Sorensen said she did everything she could that night to help the mother and the twins she was carrying but that the blizzard that night delayed her response time in getting her transported to the hospital. She also said she sincerely believed the mother was suffering from an irritable uterus, which also contributed to her slow decision making.
“I was a traditional midwife and had always done my best,” she said. “My midwifery career is now in ashes.”
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