Real Name: Patricia Stallings
Location: Jefferson County, Missouri
Date: July 9, 1989
Details: On July 9, 1989, Patricia "Patty" Stallings rushed her three-month-old son Ryan Stallings to Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, after he became violently ill. Since birth, he had suffered from chronic gastric distress. On the day he was brought to the emergency room, his breathing became extremely labored and he was vomiting uncontrollably. He was placed in the pediatric intensive care unit.
Patty and her husband David rented a room at the hospital to be close to their son. After three days, they were told that Ryan would recover. However, they were also told that their son had been poisoned. Lab tests showed that he had ethyl glycol and acetone in his body. Ethyl glycol is normally found in antifreeze and acetone is normally found in fingernail polish. The Stallings confirmed that both substances were in their home. The doctors were suspicious of the couple.
Detectives were brought in to question Patty and David separately. They believed that one of them had poisoned Ryan; however, no charges were filed. Ryan's condition steadily improved and twelve days later, he was released from the hospital. However, he was not allowed to return to his parents. Instead, he was taken by social workers and placed in foster care.
The Stallings were only allowed to see Ryan one hour a week, during a supervised visit. For five weeks, the visits continued without incident. On the sixth week, Patty was left alone with Ryan for a short period of time. Three days later, he suffered another severe vomiting episode. Once again, he was taken to the hospital where he was diagnosed with ethyl glycol poisoning.
Patty was arrested and charged with assault on Ryan. At the same time, Ryan's condition worsened and he was placed on life support. David tried to get Patty released so she could see her son, but the judge refused. On September 7, 1989, Ryan was taken off life support; he passed away at 6:30 pm. Patty's charges were upgraded to first-degree murder. She was not allowed to attend her son's funeral.
A few weeks later, Patty discovered that she was pregnant again. However, she remained in prison. On February 27, 1990, David "D.J." Stallings, Jr., was born at a Madison County hospital. Despite the fact that David Sr. was not a suspect, he was not allowed to take the child home and D.J. became a ward of the state.
When D.J. was two weeks old, he began showing symptoms almost identical to the ones his older brother had. The St. Louis Children's Hospital diagnosed his illness as a rare genetic disorder called Methylmalonic acidemia, or MMA. This causes the body to produce chemical byproducts that are similar to ethyl glycol found in antifreeze. According to a medical geneticist, it is easy for doctors to confuse MMA for ethyl glycol poisoning due to the similar symptoms. Because of its rarity, some doctors may not even realize that they are looking at MMA, and confuse it for ethyl glycol.
Due to the new medical evidence, prosecutors began re-evaluating the case and Patty was released from jail. However, she was not allowed to have visitation rights with her son D.J. Prosecutors decided to continue with their case against Patty. They were certain that Ryan had not died of MMA, but was instead poisoning. In the judge's chambers, prosecutors presented four expert witnesses who claimed that Ryan was poisoned. The defense, however, presented no expert witnesses, so the judge ruled that D.J.'s MMA diagnosis was inadmissible in court.
Without the medical testimony, the case against Patty Stallings seemed virtually airtight. The prosecution focused on David and Patty's sixth supervised visit with Ryan. However, according to David, Patty was left alone with Ryan for less than a minute as he took his parents out of the room. Prosecutors believed that Patty had fed Ryan ethyl glycol to her son through a bottle. They claimed that traces of ethyl glycol was found in this bottle. However, David claimed that he had given the bottle to his wife and there was no apparent evidence of tampering.
The defense pointed out that it took over three days for Ryan to have symptoms of ethyl glycol poisoning. The medical geneticist stated that it would be nearly impossible for him to have been poisoned during the sixth visit. The prosecutor, however, claimed that the foster parents may have not noticed the symptoms until later.
On March 4, 1991, Patty was convicted of Ryan's murder and sentenced to life in prison. Patty has seen her son D.J. only three times since his birth. David Sr. is only allowed to see him once a week. To this day, Patty maintains her innocence.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the May 8, 1991 episode. It was also featured on an Episode of Forensic Files.
Results: Solved. After the story aired, several physicians familiar with MMA called the tele-center in hopes of helping Patty in her appeal. Her attorneys petitioned the court for a new trial and on July 30, 1991, she was granted a new trial and released from prison.
On September 20, 1991, a press conference was held in St. Louis. Dr. Piero Rinaldo, a geneticist from Yale University, stated that independent serum tests confirmed that Ryan had definitely died of MMA. The prosecutor then dropped all of the charges against Patty. During the press conference, the Stallings were told that custody of their son D.J. would be returned to them. In October 1991, D.J. finally came home to his parents.
The Stallings later sued the hospital and labs that incorrectly diagnosed Ryan with ethyl glycol poisoning. In 1993, they settled a lawsuit in which they were awarded several million dollars.
David and Patty Stallings later divorced. Tragically, in September 2013, their son D.J. Stallings passed away at the age of twenty-three.
- Patricia Stallings on Unsolved.com
- Patricia Stallings at Wikipedia
- The Murder That Never Was
- Patricia Stallings on National Registry of Exonerations
- David Stallings Jr. at Find a Grave