ST. LOUIS -- A St. Louis County man was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison Tuesday for his role in a methamphetamine operation linked to the death of his infant child.
Federal prosecutor Catherine Hanaway said the case of James Hayes, 28, marked the first time in the Eastern District of Missouri that a sentence was enhanced in a meth case because of dangers posed to children.
"This is the first case of its kind," Hanaway said, "and it sends two clear messages."
Law enforcement will work to enhance a penalty when warranted, and they will work together to remove the "scourge of meth out of our region," she said.
The court also imposed sentence enhancements after determining that Hayes was a leader in the meth conspiracy, that he possessed a firearm in connection with the operation, and that he posed dangers to law enforcement during pursuit.
But it was the court's finding that Hayes "created a substantial risk of harm to the life of his minor children" in the course of making meth that seemed to dominate the case. The official cause of the infant's death was undetermined.
During a routine traffic stop in St. Louis County, police were led to a meth-making operation in a wooded area of neighboring Jefferson County, and ultimately to a trailer home in Imperial occupied by Hayes, his girlfriend and their four children.
There, on Jan. 23, 2003, police were met by paramedics who found 4-week-old Jersie Hayes unresponsive and later pronounced the child dead.
Trace amounts of methamphetamine found on the child's pillow, and a written statement from an alleged accomplice stating he and Hayes had been making meth the night the child died, began to build a case against Hayes and other conspirators. But authorities said it took more time to develop sufficient evidence for conviction.
Hayes later admitted transporting several tanks of stolen anhydrous ammonia -- a hazardous chemical used in meth manufacturing -- to his residence in Crystal City in August 2004. Prosecutors said one of the tanks began to leak, emitting fumes into the air, and Hayes instructed his girlfriend to take their remaining three children to safety.
A government witness testified at a hearing in the case in March that there was "no question" that meth-making inside a residence poses a substantial risk to children living there.
Hayes' other three children are in state custody. It's unclear whether charges will be brought against his girlfriend.
St. Louis County Police Detective Damon Kunnemann described Hayes as a "middle-class guy, a bricklayer," who got into meth manufacturing full time.
Seven other defendants pleaded guilty in the case and received sentences ranging from 12 to 125 months in prison.