Central Valley

Judge to decide if Turlock infant killing goes to trial

Lillie Mae Betts was suspicious when her 19-year-old daughter suddenly gained 30 pounds and began to hide herself under baggy clothes. So she bought her a pregnancy test and baby clothes for the grandchild she soon expected.

But after reading a newspaper story about a newborn girl found discarded in a Turlock trash bin in November 2008, it was Betts who went to the police station to tell detectives her suspicion: that the baby found in a knotted plastic shopping bag was her daughter's.

Authorities found three fingerprints matching those of Jessica Mae Betts, now 20, on the bag wrapped around the newborn girl, according to testimony Monday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

Throughout much of the hearing, Lillie Betts sat in the courtroom's front row directly behind her daughter.

Judge Donald Shaver must decide if there is enough evidence to send Jessica Betts to trial on a charge of murdering the baby girl, Maria Mae Betts, who was confirmed to be her daughter through a DNA test.

Betts has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted. She remains in custody at the Public Safety Center in Modesto with bail of $1 million.

A defense attorney argued Monday that Jessica Betts' statements to police should be thrown out because the teenager was not advised of her rights to remain silent and talk to an attorney.

"Ms. Betts was there for almost five hours of intense interrogations before she was given any Miranda warnings," said Deputy Public Defender Sonny Sandhu. The detective "invoked God, heaven and that she had to do what's right. All of this indicates we have an interrogation and a detention."

Shaver disagreed, noting that Betts voluntarily went with detectives to the police station.

Over a five-hour interview with Betts the day after her mother tipped off police, Betts went from acting "very bubbly" to hyperventilating as she lay on a couch in a police interview room, Turlock police Detective Sergio Perez said.

After more than two hours of questioning, Betts admitted that she was the mother of the child, Perez said.

According to testimony, Betts told police she delivered a baby girl on the floor of a bathroom where she lived with her boyfriend about 6 a.m. on Nov. 8, 2008. He was sleeping in a bedroom just six feet from the bathroom door, Perez said.

Betts said she wrapped the newborn, who was whimpering, in a pair of purple sweat pants and a towel, and drove to Save Mart on Lander Avenue, where she sat and cried as her baby's breathing slowed and then stopped. She kissed the baby and told her, "I love you," according to testimony.

But Betts told detectives she didn't know how the baby got in the trash bin.

She said she returned to the house and lay down next to her boyfriend, Paul Alexander Aguiar. When Aguiar questioned Betts about the large amount of blood in the bathroom, she told him she was menstruating, according to testimony. Aguiar told police he didn't know Betts was pregnant, despite having sex with her four weeks before she gave birth, Perez said. When Aguiar and some of Betts' friends and co-workers asked if she were pregnant, Betts continued to deny it, Perez said.

The baby weighed 8 pounds, 1 ounce, according to a medical examiner. While Dr. Eugene Carpenter said it was "most probable" the baby was born alive, he could not prove it medically.

"The answer is: I don't know," Carpenter said.

Carpenter said the most puzzling part of his examination of the baby was that she had been thoroughly washed and cleaned, which is not a typical practice for hospital staff.

"That is an unanswered question," Carpenter said.

Testimony continues today.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.

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