Mom sentenced to 5 years in daughter's methadone overdose

Jane Griffith will serve up to five years in prison for giving her 12-year-old daughter the doses of methadone that caused her death.

Griffith pleaded guilty and was sentenced for the crime of controlled substances homicide on Jan. 26 in Pierce County Superior Court. Jessica Griffith, a student at Lakota Middle School in Federal Way, died around noon Oct. 18 last year at her aunt’s apartment in Tacoma. Jane Griffith eventually told police that over a period of two days, she twice gave her daughter doses of methadone after the young girl complained of knee pain.

All told, Jane Griffith was sentenced to 60 months in prison, plus a year of probation, and to pay $800 in fees and fines for the crime.

Pierce County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Philip Sorensen said that Jane Griffith’s sentence is in the average range for controlled substance homicide, with offenders typically receiving between 51 and 68 months. Sorensen said that Griffith could be eligible to leave prison early if she behaves.

In sentencing Griffith, Judge Rosanne Buckner took an extra step: taking away Griffith’s methadone privileges. Griffith was also ordered into substance abuse counseling and must stay off drugs and alcohol as a condition of her sentence.

Griffith told police last year that she was a recovering heroin addict and would travel to Seattle Monday through Saturday to get methadone for treatment. Griffith was allowed to take a dose of the drug home on Sundays when the clinic was closed.

Sorensen said there was no indication that Griffith received the methadone in a fraudulent manner.

Methadone has been widely used to treat opiate addiction for more than 40 years, and is occasionally given in lower doses as a pain medication. Experts have said that methadone overdose deaths among users is rare because opiate addicts have such a high tolerance. Conversely, the drug can be fatal to those who have a low tolerance.

The most amazing girl

A friend of Jessica Griffith wrote a heart-wrenching victim’s letter to Sorensen prior to Jane Griffith’s sentencing. The letter expresses anger toward Jane Griffith and a desire to have rescued Jessica Griffith from an embattled home life where the 12-year-old took “care of her mom 24/7.”

“Jessica was the most amazing girl I have ever met, and was certainly the greatest friend I had ever had,” reads the letter. “Me and Jessica were attached at the hip. We did almost everything together, and when we were away from each other, all we could do was tell each other, ‘I miss you sooo bad.’

“Jessica’s death was the most pain I’ve ever felt.”

A memorial was erected in Jessica Griffith’s honor at Lakota shortly after her death. Students wore the color yellow, the girl’s favorite, and affixed flowers, balloons and notes to a fence outside the school.

One note read: “I remember how you used to stand up for me while the other kids bullied me. I liked that about you."

“The world seems gray, like happiness is truly unachievable,” the letter continued. “Everything I look at reminds me of Jessica.

“Maybe to some people it’s just another person who passed away, but to me one of the most important people has disappeared.”

Methadone given twice

According to police reports, Jane Griffith gave her daughter a dose of methadone in the evening on Oct. 17 and again early the morning of Oct. 18.

At around 6 a.m. Oct. 18, Jane Griffith left her sister’s home in Northeast Tacoma for the methadone clinic in Seattle. Jessica Griffith’s aunt told police that the girl was awake and talking at that hour. The girl was allowed to stay home from school that day, and drifted back to sleep later in the morning.

The aunt went to check on Jessica Griffith at around noon Oct. 18; the girl did not appear to be breathing and her lips were blue. Emergency personnel were called and tried to revive the girl, but she was pronounced dead around 12:30 p.m.

The aunt told a detective later that Jane Griffith had given her daughter methadone on the night of Oct. 17, and at the time the girl had seemed “out of it.”

When detectives spoke to Jane Griffith, she initially denied having given her daughter methadone, stating, “I am on such a high dose, I wouldn’t even know how much to give her … . It is too strong.”

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