Woman sentenced to 300 days in teen's death

A Modesto woman who admitted giving a young man a sleeping pill shortly before he died of a morphine overdose was sentenced Wednesday to 300 days in jail.

Authorities were not able to tie Patricia Marie Alvarez, 28, to the drug that killed 17-year-old Andrew Suarez. The boy's mother nevertheless is convinced her son went to the same source to get the narcotics that killed him.

Antonia Ledbetter, who spoke during a sentencing hearing in Stanislaus County Superior Court, said her son was an easy target because he was raised by a grandmother but yearned for the structure of a real family with two parents who went to church on Sunday.

She said she was patching things up with her son, who stayed with her on weekends. She discovered his lifeless body on a couch in her living room May 18. She believes he was taking many pills in his last days and regrets that she didn't see the warning signs.

"He was making his bad choices," Ledbetter said, "but what kid doesn't?"

A detective was called to Ledbetter's home in the airport neighborhood to investigate the boy's death. Suarez's cousin told police that the two boys got a pair of sleeping pills from Alvarez the night before he died. When the detective questioned Alvarez, she denied any involvement, according to an affidavit filed in support of an arrest warrant.

Hours later, Ledbetter's sister confronted Alvarez and escorted her to a pay phone, where Alvarez called the authorities.

During a follow-up interview at the Sheriff's Department, Alvarez said she gave Suarez one pill the night before he died, adding that she had given and sold prescription pills to Suarez in the past.

Alvarez was released, pending the results of an autopsy. On July 25, a pathologist said Suarez died of a morphine overdose, though he also had a sleeping pill, Temazepam, in his system. Alvarez was charged with one felony count of furnishing Temazepam to a minor.

Ledbetter said she used to live in the downtown Modesto apartment complex where Alvarez lived, and her son continued to visit the area after she moved.

Alvarez, who had no prior contact with law enforcement, was arraigned Sept. 6 and pleaded guilty Sept. 18, when Judge Donald Shaver offered a sentence of up to one year in jail, rather than three, six or nine years in prison.

DA says Alvarez knew of trouble

Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees objected to the plea deal, saying her office believes Alvarez should face prison time, because Alvarez knew Suarez had a problem with alcohol and drugs.

"At the very least, she enabled this boy's addiction, which led to his untimely death," Rees said.

Deputy Public Defender Nancy Smith said there is no evidence tying Alvarez to the drug that killed Suarez. She said Alvarez thought she was being cautious by giving Suarez one or two pills at a time, and was not selling street drugs.

"Andrew died of a morphine overdose," Smith said. "Nobody knows where he got the morphine."

In addition to 300 days behind bars, Alvarez will be supervised for three years after her release and must participate in any drug treatment programs the Probation Department requires.

Ledbetter, who said she was disappointed with the outcome, said her son's case deserved a more thorough investigation.

The judge said Alvarez is not legally responsible for Suarez's death, though it may have been the unintended consequence of her actions. He said the sad scenario should be viewed as a cautionary tale to those who use drugs, because they can slip into bad patterns without realizing the danger.

"There are only two ways out of an addiction," Shaver said. "One of them is death. The other is recovery."

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.