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Expectant mother from Jeannette told she'll have to stay in custody

| Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, 10:39 p.m.

An accused drug dealer's bid for a temporary release from the Westmoreland County jail until after she gives birth was rejected Monday by a judge who cited potential danger to the child.

Heather Kunkle, 26, of Jeannette, who is eight months pregnant, appeared Monday before Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio, seeking to be released from jail until she delivers the baby.

Kunkle was among nine people charged in May as part of a regional sweep of suspected heroin and prescription painkiller dealers by the state Attorney General's office and county drug task force. She is awaiting trial.

Kunkle had planned to plead guilty to the charges and receive a sentence of 9 12 to 23 months. However, the plea deal fell through because of her criminal history, according to online court records.

Assistant District Attorney Jacquelyn Knupp told Bilik-DeFazio that Kunkle faces a “mandatory minimum three-year sentence” because of her criminal record.

Kunkle's attorney, Anthony Bompiani, then asked that Kunkle be temporarily released and placed on electronic home monitoring until she delivers the baby in early September. Kunkle intends to put the baby up for adoption, he said.

Knupp opposed the release, based on Kunkle's criminal history, citing “a great concern for the health, safety and well-being of her unborn child.”

Bilik-DeFazio concurred with Knupp's argument and denied the request, noting that other pregnant county inmates have delivered babies.

In September 2010, Amber Meidinger, 24, one of six people convicted in the torture-slaying of Jennifer Daugherty in Greensburg, had a baby while incarcerated.

Meidinger pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and is serving 40 to 80 years in prison. Meidinger testified against the baby's father, Melvin Knight, 24, who was sentenced to death for killing Daugherty, a mentally challenged woman from Mt. Pleasant.

Knight's mother has custody of the girl, according to court testimony.

Warden John Walton said in 2010, when Meidinger's daughter was born, that it was rare for an inmate to deliver a baby while in custody. But over the last four years it has become a “much more common occurrence,” he said Monday.

“This year, we've already had 16 pregnant inmates. Most of them are heroin addicts and they require special treatment at Magee Womens Hospital (of UPMC) in Pittsburgh,” Walton said.

The addicted inmates spend an average of three days in specialized treatment at the Pittsburgh hospital.

He noted the county jail health care contract provides the required medical services to pregnant inmates.

For example, Meidinger was driven regularly by a sheriff's deputy to a prenatal care center in Latrobe during her pregnancy, according to court records.

Paul Peirce is a reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at ppeirce@tribweb.com or 724-850-2860.

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