Two women whose newborns died shortly after birth saw their cases take another step through the judicial system on Monday. One pleaded guilty to third-degree homicide, and prosecutors declined to press charges against the other woman.
Heidi Sonnenberg, 22, pleaded guilty to child-abuse homicide, a third-degree felony, after the body of a fully developed infant was found in a Cottonwood Heights home in January.Since the discovery, prosecutors have received numerous calls.
About half of the callers have said the state should not be prosecuting Sonnenberg for giving birth to a daughter in the bathroom of her parents' home, said deputy district attorney James Cope. The other half believe prosecutors are being too easy on the woman who let her child die and then hid the body in a dresser drawer.
"Maybe where we should be is somewhere between those lines," Cope said after a court hearing Monday.
The middle ground for Cope will be to recommend that Sonnenberg's sentence be based on a class A misdemeanor, instead of the felony, which could reduce her maximum jail time from five years to one.
Cope said he will recommend at her Aug. 3 sentencing hearing that she not be given any jail time, he said.
Third District Judge Dennis Fuchs warned Sonnenberg that in accepting her plea he was under no obligation to accept Cope's recommendations. Sonnenberg stood expressionless while answering questions at the hearing and left without comment.
Sonnenberg was charged after her mother found a fully developed infant in a dresser drawer 10 days after the infant was born Jan. 14. An autopsy concluded the child had breathed on her own and died of blood loss, lack of stimulation, a blocked airway and temperature loss.
After delivery, Sonnenberg clipped the baby's umbilical cord with nail clippers but didn't tie the cord.
"She never denied that this happened or that she was responsible," Xaiz said. "She has accepted that she was criminally negligent in how she dealt with the situation."
The point of dispute with the prosecution was whether the crime constituted a felony or a a misdemeanor, Xaiz said.
Among the reasons the prosecution accepted the plea is the fact that Sonnenberg has no prior criminal record, Cope said. He was also unsure whether a jury would determine her actions to be child abuse.
"I believe that she truly is sorry for what happened," Cope said.
Meanwhile, in Utah County, prosecutors on Monday agreed not to prosecute 25-year-old Tiffany Johnson because her diminished mental capacity had not allowed her to know or understand that she was pregnant.
Johnson was charged in August with second-degree felony manslaughter after giving birth to a baby in a toilet of a Mapleton home four months earlier. Paramedics found her hemorrhaging on the floor and a full-term infant drowned in the toilet.
Johnson will be on probation for 18 months and agreed to participate in therapy sessions and a life-skills course.