A 3rd District judge has sentenced Heidi Sonnenberg, 22, to a year in a residential program for female victims and perpetrators of child abuse in connection with the Jan. 14 death of her newborn daughter.
The judge alluded to pre-sentence and psychological reports that indicated Sonnenberg suffered from depression and another psychological disorder that made her deny and dissociate herself from her pregnancy."It still doesn't excuse your acts," 3rd District Judge Dennis Fuchs told Sonnenberg, who wept and declined to comment at her sentencing. "It's very, very difficult for me to decide how to blend punishment with therapy."
Sonnenberg earlier had pleaded guilty to child abuse homicide, a third-degree felony, for allowing her child to die after delivery in the bathroom of her Cottonwood Heights home.
Sonnenberg clipped the baby's umbilical cord with nail clippers, but didn't tie the cord. An autopsy concluded the child had breathed on her own, but died of blood loss, lack of stimulation, a blocked airway and temperature loss.
The paternity of the child has not been disclosed publicly.
Both prosecutors and defense attorneys said jail was not appropriate in this case.
"I agonized over this for a long time," Fuchs said before imposing the sentence.
Sonnenberg was sentenced to zero-to-5 years in the Utah State Prison and fined $5,000, but the judge stayed the sentence. He put her on probation and required that she enter a new program run by Orange Street Correctional Facility for at least 12 months.
If she is released before that, she must report back to the court to serve jail time or spend time in home confinement. The program is for female sex offenders and also those who either suffered abuse or were themselves abusers.
Sonnenberg also must complete the program's mental health therapy and take all prescription medications the program requires.
She also must complete parenting classes and social skills training, seek full-time employment or education at the appropriate time and perform 500 hours of community service.
If she violates any of these conditions, she will go to prison, the judge warned.
Defense attorney Earl Xaiz said the correctional facility was restrictive enough to provide necessary punishment, but also would provide the kind of therapy that Sonnenberg needs.
Outside the courtroom, prosecutor James Cope said he is not a psychiatrist, but that he had suspected these psychological conditions existed when Sonnenberg was first charged. Other factors also play into the situation.
"Generally speaking, her home life is not very good and it has not been very good for a long time," he said. "It appears she is having a really difficult time with her own personality. She doesn't have any friends, she doesn't like her family, she's a mess."
At one point during a police interview she told an officer, `You must be so disgusted with me, you probably want to kill me,' " Cope said. "At some level, she did not - and may still not - understand what she did."
A baby was allowed to die and jail is certainly an appropriate punishment for that, Cope said. However, there are unusual circumstances in this case.
"We cannot bring the baby back," Cope said. "This is really a tragic case."
Fuchs in July rejected a plea agreement in which Sonnenberg pleaded guilty to child abuse homicide, a third-degree felony, after prosecutors agreed to recommend that her sentence be based on a class A misdemeanor and that instead of jail time, she be given probation.