updated 11/12/2004 7:38:00 PM ET 2004-11-13T00:38:00

Saying the autopsy report was wrong, a prosecutor Friday dismissed a murder charge against a woman accused of killing her severely disabled daughter with an overdose of medication.

Franklin County District Attorney Mike Taylor told a judge that new tests showed Ashley Mignano, 15, who had cerebral palsy, did not die July 4 from a fatal dose of phenobarbital. The teenager’s mother, Margaret Mignano, had been arrested in August and spent a week in jail before she was freed on $200,000 bond.

“I’m floating on a cloud,” she said from her attorney’s office.

The autopsy report was signed by Dr. Charles Harlan of Nashville, a forensic pathologist who is defending his medical license against state charges of misdiagnosing causes of death in other cases and destroying evidence in criminal investigations.

Mignano’s attorney, Bob Peters, said he and Taylor were in court for an unrelated case when the prosecutor surprised him by telling a judge that “follow-up testing did not indicate a lethal dose” of the drug, which was used to control the girl’s seizures.

Harlan’s report included outside laboratory tests showing that the teen had lethal levels of the barbiturate in her system. The defense argued that Mignano followed doctors’ orders in using the drug.

Labs agree on original error
Taylor said tests conducted by another laboratory that showed therapeutic rather than toxic levels of phenobarbital in Ashley were shared with the original lab, which agreed that a mistake had been made. He said the cause of death was being changed to “restrictive pulmonary disease, secondary to cerebral palsy.”

Harlan, who continues to practice while fighting the state charges, would not comment Friday.

Ashley, who used a ventilator and a feeding tube, died at a hospital after suffering cardiac arrest at her rural home. The arrest warrant accused Mignano of crushing pills of phenobarbital and putting them in Ashley’s feeding tube.

Friends said Mignano, 50, had described saving the girl’s life just three days earlier by hand-pumping her emergency breathing rig during a 90-minute power failure.

The death came only a week after the family moved from Scotch Plains, N.J., to be closer to relatives. Authorities said in August that they arrested Mignano in part because she was a newcomer and could pose a flight risk. Authorities said her husband, Mike Mignano, was in New Jersey when his daughter died.

“I feel relief for my wife because of the tremendous burden that was just dropped on her,” Mike Mignano said Friday. “Ashley was our life. The void for Ashley will never go away.”

After the grand jury returned an indictment Nov. 1, investigators said they had uncovered evidence besides the autopsy but declined to say what it was.

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