Friday, June 27, 2008

Texas Teenager Charged with Murder of Newborn Son

Another sad chapter in Texas criminal law was written yesterday in the case of a newborn boy who was found dead in a toilet at a junior high school. For those not already familiar with the case, the baby was submerged in the water and had paper stuffed down his throat. The fourteen-year-old mother of the baby has been charged with capital murder. That sentence alone explains the many tragedies that are a part of this story.

The prosecution has not yet decided if the Baytown, TX girl—her age is undisclosed due to her age— will be charged as a juvenile or an adult. If she is convicted as an adult, she faces life in prison without the possibility for parole. And under Texas law, she is too young to be considered for the death penalty. If the state decides that she should not stand trial as an adult, she instead could find herself in juvenile detention center and then state prison for forty years. If this teenager really did kill her child, she will, at the very least, spend the majority of her life behind bars.

Baytown police Captain Roger Clifford said, "We have had enough evidence to determine that this action was done intentionally and knowingly. That means beyond a reasonable doubt in our mind and in mind of the district attorney's office and in mind of the medical examiner's office, that this was not an accident."

The girl’s attorney, Gerald Yoakum, insists that she did not even know that she was pregnant and that she only saw “blood and goo” from the placenta and umbilical cord when in the bathroom. We have heard this defense before and, if true, it speaks to a frightening lack of education and/or perception in some of our young people. It also counters the mental state of “intent” which is an element of the crime that the prosecutor will have to prove. However, not knowing she was pregnant leading up to that moment certainly does not justify the actions that followed. The investigation has revealed that the baby cried at least once before he died.

It is difficult to imagine the circumstances that led the teenaged girl to her current situation. As her attorney said, "Please remember that this is a 14-year-old child who has experienced a tragic event." This is undoubtedly true, but it remains to be seen if the legal court (or the court of public opinion) places its sympathies with the girl.

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