(Gregory Hirst, Oil CIty News)

CASPER, Wyo. — A Casper woman pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the death of her 1-year-old baby due to fentanyl exposure last year.

Elizabeth Rachel Sterkel was charged with one felony and one misdemeanor. Her cold plea in the Seventh Judicial District on Thursday means the state may argue for up to five years in prison at sentencing.

Casper police responded to Sterkel’s home on May 18, 2022, in regards to the deceased child, the affidavit said.

Drug paraphernalia and methamphetamine were found in the residence, including 1.7 grams of methamphetamine in a diaper bag.

Multiple people were at the woman’s house the night of the child’s death, including two who were connected to “a large-scale drug distributor of both fentanyl and methamphetamine,” the affidavit said. 

Investigators learned that fentanyl had been sold at the house, and that one woman, a friend of Sterkel, Tawna Goodwin-McMurray, had been crushing up fentanyl pills in the kitchen, where she also prepared food and a bottle for the baby.

The state pathologist believed the child had died within 30 minutes of exposure to the fentanyl. 

Though she admitted to the possession of methamphetamine, Sterkel was not charged with possession of fentanyl, said she was unaware the people in her house were using it. She said they had come over to help take care of the baby while she dealing with a bout of pneumonia in the basement.

Sterkel was charged with criminally negligent homicide for a “gross deviation from a standard of care,” as the statute provides. The misdemeanor carries a penalty of up to one year in prison.

Allowing a child to remain in a place where methamphetamine or fentanyl is possessed or used is felony punishable by up to five years in prison.