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A Mother Accused: The Patricia Stallings Case

               In 1987, Patrcia Stallings was a new mother living in Arnold, Missouri, just outside of Saint Louis. She was in her twenties in the mid-eighties when she met David Stallings. David came into the gas station that Patricia worked at and was instantly attracted to the pretty woman. He asked her out numerous times, but she continually said no. Eventually, she agreed to go out with David around December of 1986. After that, they were instantly a couple and married in 1988.  Soon after marrying, the Stallings learned they were expecting their first child. What they were not expecting, however, was what happened next.

               Patricia, known as Patty, met metal engraver David Stallings in 1986. The two quickly became a couple, marrying in 1988. Their first child, a son, was born on April 4th, 1989. Ryan Patrick Stallings Ryan was the apple of his mother’s eye, and her main priority as she was now a stay-at-home mother. Ryan started having difficulty after feedings around two weeks old. His mother, Patty, was told he sensitive and a special formula was ordered. The mother continued to care for her son, stomach issues and all, enjoying every moment.

               During the summer of 1989, three-month-old Ryan Stallings was taken to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. His mother had noticed that the infant was listless, lethargic, and vomiting more than usual. She knew something was wrong. Her motherly instincts were correct. The baby was admitted to the pediatric ICU. At first, the doctors were not sure why the baby was sick. They tested the infant for known poisons, hoping to uncover the cause of illness.

               Much to the terror of the staff at Cardinal Glennon, Ryan’s tests came back showing the baby was positive for ethylene glycol, antifreeze. David and Patty were immediately separated and interrogated. The police asked Patty if she was having trouble at home, if she and David were arguing, if motherhood was hard for her. Puzzled, she didn’t understand the reasoning behind these questions. Finally, they told her that Ryan had been poisoned with antifreeze and would be placed in foster care upon discharge from the hospital.

               David and Patty were devastated. They brought their son to the hospital for help only to have him taken away from them. They both insisted that neither of them was capable of poisoning their son. The two were given a weekly visitation with their son that was to be supervised. No one was to be left alone with the baby. Ryan had gotten better with treatment and IV fluids and was released into a foster home. The Stallings continued to visit their son every Thursday per the court order, with hopes that eventually they could bring their son back home.

               In late August of 1989, David and Patty attended their sixth week of visitation with their son Ryan. Ryan was doing great, with no medical issues noted by the foster family. The couple and David’s parents visited with the baby, just the four of them. At some point, the grandparents were ready to leave, and David walked them out. According to David, he was only out of the room for two minutes or less. When he left, Patty was giving Ryan a bottle.

               Four days later, authorities informed Patty and David that Ryan was back in the pediatric ICU. After their visit, the prosecutor said the baby went to a “respite” foster home for the weekend so that his regular foster family could get a break. The second foster family had noticed that weekend, after Patty and David’s visit, the baby had become more lethargic, was vomiting, and appeared to be really sick. The baby was rushed back to the hospital and testing was done immediately. Once again, Ryan’s test came back as positive for ethylene glycol.

               The investigators had put pieces together, stating that they believed Patty Stallings had put arsenic in the baby’s bottle when her husband stepped out with his parents that past Thursday. According to experts, it was possible that he developed symptoms 12-24 hours after the alleged poisoning. With this evidence, Patty was arrested and charged with assault on September 5th, 1989. “It infuriated me, and I was just… I was devastated. I was blown away. Ryan was my world. He was perfect” Patty would later state.

               Ryan was treated aggressively for antifreeze poisoning but continued to deteriorate. Patty was in jail, but David was allowed time with his son at the hospital. The doctors told David to consider having any religious ceremonies that he considered important because they did not expect Ryan to survive. On September 7th, two days after her arrest, Ryan died at Cardinal Glennon Hospital in his father’s arms.

               The Stallings were obviously devastated. They lost their child. Around this same time, Paula Simms had been arrested and was subject of a very high-profile trial. Paula Simms, of Alton, IL, had killed her daughter Lorelai in 1986 and Heather in 1989 as infants. The St. Louis area was angry about the crime Paula committed, so when Patty was arrested and charged with Ryan’s murder, they were also extremely angry with her. The community did not understand why David was sticking by his wife, insisting she was innocent.

               Patty and David learned soon after her arrest that Patty was pregnant with their second child. Due to the charges that she was facing, her child was to be placed into foster care upon birth. David attended the birth of his second son, David “DJ”, on February 17th, 1990. David was immediately placed with a foster family. David and Patty relied on each other and their spiritual beliefs, hoping that the jury would not believe the prosecutor’s theory.

               On March 3rd, just weeks after his birth, David and Patty were informed that DJ was ill. He was hospitalized at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. The social worker explained that DJ was listless, vomiting, not eating, and was not producing urine and feces normally. Patty’s heart sank as she realized her second baby was sick. It was happening again. Only, Patty had not had any contact unsupervised with the baby and had not seen him since just after his birth.

               Soon, doctors told Patty and David that DJ had a very rare genetic disorder known as methylmalonic acidemia. Methylmalonic acidemia is a medical condition in which the body is unable to properly digest proteins. The condition is characterized by lethargy, dehydration, vomiting, weak muscle tone, acid-base imbalance, and high levels of ammonia. A biproduct of this condition is the buildup of propionic acid in the blood- this substance is different from ethylene glycol by a single carbon atom. MMA can be misdiagnosed as antifreeze poisoning.

               David and Patty were stunned, but maybe this was the vindication they had been waiting for. A pathologist performed a test on urine samples from Ryan that had been saved. The prosecution announced they would continue prosecuting Patty. According to the prosecution, the physicians who tested the urine had found Ryan “may have had” MMA but was a clear case of antifreeze poisoning. Patty was put on trial, maintaining her innocence. The judge did not allow her defense to present evidence that Ryan may have suffered from MMA or that DJ was suffering from the disorder. He claimed the information was not relevant.

               In January 1991, Patricia Stallings was found guilty of first-degree murder in the case of her son, Ryan Stallings. She was sentenced to life in prison. DJ would remain in foster care.  The case was featured on “Unsolved Mysteries” shortly after. A pathologist from Saint Louis University agreed to perform the testing on remaining samples from Ryan, convinced that Patty had been wrongfully convicted. As it would turn out, this was true.

               Allegedly, the testing performed earlier was largely ignored by the prosecution during the trial. After DJ was born, testing on Ryan’s samples showed that he definitely had MMA and was not a victim of child abuse or antifreeze poisoning. Allegedly, the pathologist had told the prosecutor this and that further testing was needed. The prosecutor did not disclose this to the defense or have further testing performed. Some physicians have speculated that had the hospital properly diagnosed Ryan, a B12 shot could have saved his life.

               All of this came to light in July of 1991. Presented with the facts, and allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, Patricia Stallings’ guilty verdict was overturned. She was free pending a new trial, but prosecutors declined to press charges again. The prosecution eventually apologized to Patty and David, but it was too little too late. After nineteen months in foster care and jail, DJ and his mother Patty were reunited. Patty and David brought their son home and continued to reside in the St. Louis area.

               Patty and David sued Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, the physicians who misdiagnosed Ryan, the pathologist who incorrectly performed the original testing, and the lab company. They settled the suit out of court for an undisclosed amount of money. Patty learned the prosecutor was up for re-election in 1994. She was outspoken about her feelings and the ordeal she had been through. The community did not trust the prosecutor anymore, as it was believed that he was aggressive in the prosecution of Patty Stallings and ignored key evidence that MMA was the cause of death. The motive? Patty was being compared in the media to Paula Simms. She believes that political motivation played a role, as the prosecutor was eager to “convict another child killer”. The prosecutor was voted out of office.

               Patty and David later divorced. DJ died in 2013, at the age of twenty-three. According to the very little media reports in existence, DJ was an adult dependent due to the MMA and the MMA led to his death in 2013. For fear of having another child with MMA, Patty and David did not have any more children together before their divorce. Each of their children, as they are both MMA carriers, have a 25% chance of the disease, which increases to 66% since siblings suffered from the disease. David eventually remarried and had more children, presumably healthy.  David died in 2019.

               This is a terrifying case. A simple medical testing mistake, which apparently 50% of labs tested made the same mistake, caused a woman to be separated from her husband and child, imprisoned for two years, and she missed the death of her eldest son. Was this a case of an aggressive prosecutor with a political agenda or was it a tragic mistake? It certainly was a mother’s worst nightmare.


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Hi guys! I only live about 15 to 20 minutes from Arnold, MO. This was so interesting to me because it was so close.

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