How A Mother Was Wrongfully Accused Of Killing Her Child

On July 7, 1989, in Jefferson County, Missouri, Patricia Stallings’ infant child Ryan became ill. He was sent to the hospital for treatment, and tests revealed that his blood contained significant quantities of ethylene glycol, the main element in antifreeze. Ryan was placed in protective care after the pediatrician treating him suspected he had been poisoned by Patricia. Ryan was hospitalized again after a brief visit with his mother on September 1, 1989, and officials concluded that she poisoned him during the contact. On September 4, 1989, he passed away. The next day, Stallings was apprehended.

The key evidence against Stallings came from lab tests that revealed ethylene glycol in Ryan’s blood and crystalline formations in his brain, both of which suggested the existence of the substance. Antifreeze was also discovered in the Stallings home’s basement. Stallings was pregnant with her second child when she was arrested.

Patricia and David Stalings

The infant, named David Jr., was born in February 1990 and was placed in foster care right away. Even though he had no contact with Patricia, this child soon began to exhibit the same symptoms as Ryan. A second institution diagnosed David Jr. with Methylamalonic Acidemia (MMA), a rare hereditary condition that could have been the cause of Ryan’s symptoms. Ryan’s tissue samples were subjected to further tests. Except for one lab that revealed evidence of both poisoning and MMA, the results were the same as before.

Ryan’s death could have been caused by MMA rather than poisoning, but Stallings’ lawyer produced no evidence to back up that theory. As a result, the judge forbade him from presenting this hypothesis to the jury. “You may as well hypothesize that some little man from Mars came down and shot him full of some odd bacteria,” Jefferson County Prosecutor George B. McElroy III retorted when the lawyer told the jury Ryan could have died of natural causes.

Ryan Stallings

Stallings’ counsel also failed to summon any of Stallings’ nominated character witnesses. On January 31, 1991, a Jefferson County Circuit Court jury found Stallings guilty of first-degree murder and assault, and she was sentenced to life in prison.

The Stallings case was presented on “Unsolved Mysteries” in May of the following year, which William Sly, professor and chairman of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at St. Louis University, happened to see. Sly ran more testing on Ryan’s blood, proving that he died of MMA rather than poisoning.

When Sly employed the approach used in Ryan’s prosecution to send test samples containing methylmalonic acid to a set of commercial labs, nearly half of the labs returned false results. Other signs of poisoning, according to Sly, could have been caused by the therapies administered to Ryan on the premise that he had been poisoned.

When McElory learned of the findings, he sought the advice of Piero Rinaldo, a prominent Yale University geneticist who convinced him that Patricia was innocent.

Piero Rinaldo

McElroy requested a new trial based on this new information, claiming that his legal defense was insufficient. On July 30, 1991, Stallings was released.

McElroy announced the charges were dropped on September 20, 1991, and he personally apologized to the Stallings family. David Jr. was returned to his parents’ custody the following day. On September 17, 2013, David Jr. passed away and the father, David passed in 2019 after a prolonged illness.

In 1993, Stallings reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with the labs and hospital.


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