updated 6/19/2008 7:21:39 AM ET 2008-06-19T11:21:39

A man whose teething infant died after apparently sucking on his father's cocaine-tainted fingers has been sentenced to life in prison.

Dennis Ray Driver, 26, was convicted Wednesday of felony murder for the overdose death of his 8-month-old son, Dennis Jr. The jury also fined Driver $10,000.

Driver said he fell asleep at his apartment on Dec. 28 with his son lying on his chest. When he awoke, the baby wasn't breathing. The infant died the next day at a hospital.

Driver had told investigators that he had chopped up cocaine and the baby later sucked on his fingers, prosecutor Murray Newman said.

'Message to parents'
Newman said he didn't believe Driver fed the cocaine to his son.

"We weren't trying to prove that he intentionally caused the death," he said. "This sends a message to parents to protect their children from any contact with illegal drugs."

Newman said medical testimony showed that a trace amount of cocaine could have caused acute cocaine toxicity in the baby, who had metabolized cocaine in his bloodstream and undigested cocaine in his stomach.

Defense attorney Hattie Shannon said her client was disappointed with the verdict and the sentence. Driver maintained his innocence throughout the trial, she said.

Newman said Driver had at least eight previous convictions, including six that were related to cocaine. The Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday in its online edition that when the baby died, Driver was free on bail on a cocaine possession charge.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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