‘I made some terrible decisions’:Louisiana woman sentenced to life in prison for starving her infant to death after Katrina deserved a second chance, parole commission says
A parole board has recommended that a woman who was sentenced to life in prison nearly 20 years ago die of malnutrition that was fed cow’s milk instead of infant formula.
Tiffany Woods, 43, has appealed for her release to the Louisiana Board of Pardons after serving 17 years in prison for the second-degree murder of her baby, Emanuel.
Emmanuel was only five months old when he passed away in 2005. At the time he was born, Woods and her family were living in New Orleans. He was born prematurely weighing only three pounds and has been shown to have a deficiency that makes the body unable to break down some fats. This condition increases the risk of sudden death due to low blood sugar, so babies need frequent feeding. However, the hospital staff did not notify Woods of this when the baby was discharged.
After undergoing intensive care, Emmanuel returned home just three weeks before Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Woods was twenty-five years old.
The day before Hurricane Katrina struck, Woods fled with her four children to Shreveport, Louisiana. They stayed at a sports arena and then a motel before moving into a rented house. She had been feeding Emmanuel infant formula until the family ran out of food stamps, so she decided to feed him cow’s milk which pediatricians advise against for children under one year of age.
“The formula he was taking, he wasn’t swallowing. He was always throwing it away, and then the WIC (food) coupons ran out, so I decided to switch it… I switched to organic milk. I thought it was working better, but it wasn’t thriving,” Woods said. He said to the parole board.
At the time, Woods said she was suffering from depression and stress due to the terrible effects of Hurricane Katrina and made some “bad choices,” including giving her baby cow’s milk.
“At that point in my life I was a young mother trying to take care of her children as best she could. And I made some terrible decisions. But the woman sitting across from you today, I’m not the same person,” she said.
Emanuel’s condition continued to deteriorate, and he died in November 2005. Woods and her husband were charged with murder, and at trial the prosecution argued that although Woods claimed she had run out of coupons, there was food and beer in the refrigerator after the child’s death. Prosecutors also showed stark images of the sick infant’s body to counter Woods’ claims that she saw nothing wrong with the baby.
Unlike most states, Louisiana law allows convictions for accidental homicide in cases of death resulting from a group of felonies that include juvenile cruelty. Also, unlike most states, murder convictions in Louisiana carry a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole for adults. Both of Emmanuel’s parents lost their appeals.
All four of Woods’ children—one of whom was born after Emmanuel’s death—were present at the council session in support of their mother. The warden at Woods Prison’s warden described Woods as “low risk, little need” and said the prison had no issues with her.
The board members also vocally endorsed Woods. One mentioned her minor disciplinary record, and another told her, “You’re not the same person you used to be.”
The board of directors voted unanimously that Woods should be granted her freedom, but the decision to release her ultimately rested with Governor John Bel Edwards. Last year, the state assembly issued 105 clemency recommendations, and Edwards granted 35 pardons and commuted sentences to 51 other people.
The boy’s father, Emanuel Scott, now 36, is serving life in prison. He did not apply for clemency.