On July 9, 1989, a young mother in St. Louis, Missouri, rushed her very sick baby to the hospital. Ryan Stallings, who was 3 months old, was the child. Ryan had been having stomach problems since he was born. Ryan was taken to the emergency room because it was hard for him to breathe and he couldn’t stop throwing up. His father, David, said that Ryan was taken right away to the pediatric intensive care unit:
“It was shocking to see a little baby helpless like that. At that point, they said that they didn’t know how long he would be there. We’re still not sure what’s wrong with him. So you might as well go to the waiting room and stay there until we can tell you what’s wrong.”
David and Patty Stallings rented a room in the hospital so they could be close to their son. After three days of pain, the Stallings found out that Ryan would get better. The diagnosis, on the other hand, was a shock. Ryan had gotten sick. Patty Stallings was upset that the police thought she was a suspect right away:
“They were polite, but they didn’t trust us. They wouldn’t let us see Ryan by ourselves. Two nurses or a doctor would have to be there. We were never allowed to be alone by his bed. That made me angry, but I still didn’t get it. I guess because I didn’t look at it the way they did.”
On the same day, police were called to look into it. Patty says that detectives talked to her husband in a different room:
“Detectives split us up and talked to each of us separately. They asked me right away, “Is something wrong at home?” Do you and David have a fight?’ They said that they knew that either I or my husband had poisoned that baby. It made me angry, and I was just… I was very sad. I was stunned… Ryan was my universe… He was just right.”
Ryan’s health got better. He was released from the hospital after 12 days, but not to the care of his parents. Patty and David couldn’t talk to Ryan as much as they wanted to. Patty said that they were only allowed to see them for an hour every Thursday:
“I couldn’t wait for Thursday to come. I would tell everyone how last Thursday went over and over and over again. That’s how I lived…”
Five weeks passed while the parents came to visit. During the sixth visit, Patty and Ryan spent a short amount of time alone. Three days later, Ryan got sick again and threw up a lot. He was taken to the hospital again quickly. Once again, poisoning was the cause. The police went to Patty’s house with a warrant to arrest her:
“We were getting out of the car when they said, ‘Stop right there.'” When I turned around, I said, “Come on into the house.” They told them, “You can’t go into the house.” They put handcuffs on me right away and told me, “You’re being held for assault.”
Patty Stallings was taken into custody and put on trial for assault. While Patty stayed in jail for a long time, her son died. Ryan was put on machines to keep him alive. David Stallings was stuck in his own personal hell:
“The doctors come up to me and tell me that they think Ryan won’t make it and that I might want to talk to a minister about having him baptized. I tried to get Patty up there, but all the judge said was “No, no way.” I won’t let a person who k*ills babies up there.’ “This woman did not k*ill this baby,” I said. When they finally came back to me and asked, “Can we turn him off?” I told them, “Go ahead and turn off the machine.” I wanted to be with him, though. So, I held him in my arms for three hours, knowing that Patty couldn’t be there, and watched this machine’s meter go down every time his heart beat.
Ryan Stallings died on September 7, 1989. He hadn’t even turned six months yet. His mother, Patty, was now being held without bail and charged with first-degree mu*rder. Ryan’s funeral was not something she was allowed to go to. A few weeks later, Patty found out she was going to have another baby. David Stallings Jr. was born six months after that. David Sr. was not a suspect, but he still couldn’t take his son home. The child was given to a foster family. In a strange way, this terrible blow would turn out to be a lucky break. Without it, Patty and David Stallings might have been accused of poisoning their second child.
When David Stallings Jr. was two weeks old, he started having the same problems as his older brother, Ryan. This time, the doctor gave a different answer. David Jr. had MMA, which is a rare genetic disorder in which the body makes chemicals that are similar to those in antifreeze. Unsolved Mysteries talked to a medical expert outside of Unsolved Mysteries about MMA:
“MMA is easy to mistake for multiple poisonings because the symptoms are so similar. But what’s more important is that MMA and other disorders like it are very rare. Most doctors have never seen a case, or if they have, they didn’t know it was MMA and thought it was something else.
Patty Stallings was let out of jail while the prosecutors looked at the medical evidence. Even so, Patty was still not allowed to see her newborn son:
“I thought my nightmare of being accused of hurting Ryan was over. Even my lawyer said it was over, so I was sure. They couldn’t miss the truth when it was right in front of them.”
Even so, local officials kept looking into Ryan’s case. From their point of view, Ryan Stallings hadn’t died because of MMA. They brought up four experts in front of the judge. The judge wouldn’t let the jury hear what was wrong with David Jr. The prosecuting lawyer in the case was George McElroy:
“We were worried that if it turned out that David Jr. or Ryan had this methylmalonic acidosis, it wouldn’t matter unless it could be shown that he died from it or that it was a factor in his death. Otherwise, we think it would send the jury on a wild goose chase and cause them to make a decision based on something that isn’t really important.”
Without the medical evidence, the case against Patty seemed to be as solid as a rock. The prosecution focused on what happened on Patty and David’s sixth visit with Ryan on August 31, 1989. David’s parents were invited for the first time on that trip:
“My parents decided to leave about twenty minutes into the visit. The rest of the time, Patty and I were with him. I walked my parents to the door and then down the hall. I was only out of the room for a maximum of 45 seconds.”
George McElroy says that Patty was alone with David for between three and eight minutes:
“During that time, she did use a bottle to feed the baby. The child had the same symptoms as before. When it went back to the hospital, it was told that it had been poisoned by ethylene glycol. But the state thinks that she put ethylene glycol, or antifreeze, in the baby’s bottle during that feeding, and there is evidence that supports this.
However, David Stallings disagreed that his wife fed their newborn son while she was alone:
“That’s not true. I walked back to the cubbyhole where Patty and Ryan were waiting. He was getting a little cranky, so I reached into the bag, took the bottle out, and started feeding him. When I saw the bottle… I didn’t see any change in color in the bottle at all. Nothing happened to that bottle. “Nothing at all.”
But the jury decided in favor of the prosecution, and on March 4, 1991, Patty Stallings was given a life sentence without the chance of parole. Each time she saw her son, she only had an hour. David Stallings Sr. was able to see his son once a week:
“I don’t know how they can live with themselves knowing that they sent an innocent woman to jail for the rest of her life for something she didn’t do. Neither of these things would have happened if Ryan’s MMA had been correctly diagnosed. In the last two years, none of these chains of events would have taken place. It all depended on whether he was correctly diagnosed, which he wasn’t.”
Doctors from all over the country called soon after this story aired to say they knew about MMA. Dr. Piero Rinaldo, a well-known scientist from Yale University, even did tests that proved MMA was what killed Ryan. So, the lawyer who was trying to bring charges against Patty Stallings dropped all of them. David Stallings Jr. could finally go back home.