Husband says he didn't know about wife's pregnancies, police say
Conditions of 7 infant bodies pose autopsy challenges, medical examiner says
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
PLEASANT GROVE — As police waited Tuesday for results from the medical examiner, questions about how a woman accused of killing six newborn infants was allegedly able to conceal seven pregnancies continued to swirl.
Many have questioned how Megan Huntsman, 39 — who is listed in jail records as 5 feet 4 inches tall and 105 pounds — was apparently able to hide her pregnancies from her husband and her daughters, and then conceal six or seven deceased babies from not just her husband, but also from officers when her house was the target of a drug investigation in 2005.
Huntsman remained in the Utah County Jail Tuesday on suicide watch in lieu of $6 million bail. Police say Huntsman told them she gave birth to seven babies between 1996 and 2006 and strangled or suffocated six of them immediately after they were born. The seventh was allegedly stillborn in 2006. Huntsman then wrapped the babies in a towel or shirt and placed them in individual cardboard boxes that were stored in the garage of their Pleasant Grove home, according to investigators.
The Utah State Medical Examiner's Office began its work Tuesday to either confirm or dispute Huntsman's story. Police hope the autopsies will be able to answer questions such as: How did the infants die? Is Huntsman the mother to all seven babies? And who is the father or fathers?
Utah Chief Medical Examiner Todd Grey, while not allowed to talk about the specifics of the seven bodies brought to his lab, said one of the biggest challenges he faces in doing his job is the age of the bodies.
"Decomposition is a big issue given the purported time that the bodies have been undiscovered. That makes issues of sex determination very difficult," he said. "We will be having a forensic anthropologist assist us in looking at the skeletal structures. That will help us determine gestational age. We'll also be looking for any evidence of skeletal trauma in any of the individuals."
That process could take weeks to months, he said. Grey and his crew will also be looking for potential DNA samples that can be sent to the Utah State Crime Lab. The types of samples available will be determined by the conditions of the bodies.
"We will be working with the crime lab to determine what, if any, samples will be appropriate for DNA analysis. I certainly couldn't say right now whether or not DNA is recoverable and the condition of that DNA," Grey said.
Pleasant Grove Police Capt. Michael Roberts said Tuesday that his investigators were informed that at least one of the deceased infants was female. Other than that, he said there was no new information about the case to release. The police department was sorting through the evidence that had been collected and was preparing a case to present to the Utah County Attorney's Office — possibly by Friday — to determine what criminal charges will be filed.
Huntsman has three living children — all daughters. Two of girls were born before 1996. Her youngest daughter would have been born in 2000 or 2001.
Darren West, Huntsman's estranged husband, reportedly did not know about his wife's pregnancies.
"He claims he had no knowledge of it," Roberts said.
West was convicted on both state and federal drug charges in 2006 and sentenced to nine years in federal prison where he served his state time concurrently. He was recently released and was in the process of moving back into his Pleasant Grove home when he made the horrific discovery in his garage over the weekend.
According to court documents, West had been purchasing large amounts of iodine — a precursor to making methamphetamine — from a livestock business in Ohio under a fake name from 2002 to 2005 and giving them to another person. He ordered a total of 84 pints through seven orders, according to court documents, which could have potentially made 28 ounces of meth. West told investigators another man paid him $250 for each iodine shipment.
On June 7, 2005, DEA investigators conducted a "knock and talk" investigation at the couple's Pleasant Grove home, 536 E. 200 North. Huntsman — who is referred to as Megan West in court documents — opened the door and "allowed the officers to look through the residence." Once investigators were satisfied that Darren West was not in the house, officers called his cellphone and left a message for him.
The scope of the knock and talk investigation did not allow investigators to meticulously go through drawers, cupboards or even boxes in the garage.
DEA agents returned the next day and performed a "trash cover" at the residence, meaning they dug through the family's trash cans in front of their curb. The DEA said Tuesday it is not legally required to obtain a search warrant for trash can searches. And because DEA agents were able to collect enough evidence for their case without officially searching the home, they never obtained a search warrant.
In the trash can, police found phosphorus evidence, another common meth precursor.
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