Mother suspected daughter left baby in trash bin

TURLOCK -- The mother of the teenager suspected of dumping her dead baby in a trash bin last month provided the tip that led police to her daughter.

Jessica Mae Betts' mother also told Turlock police she found her daughter's diaries telling of a past pregnancy, the birth of a child and its "possible disposal" in 2007, according to search warrant documents obtained Monday by The Bee.

Betts' mother, Lillie Mae, suspected her daughter was pregnant again and involved in abandoning a child after reading a newspaper story about a baby girl left in a Dumpster at the Save Mart parking lot on Lander Avenue on Nov. 8, the search warrant says.

Lillie Betts went to police less than two weeks later, according to the affidavit for a search warrant.

Jessica Betts, 19, is charged with first-degree murder. She has pleaded not guilty and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted. She remains in custody at the Public Safety Center in Modesto with a bail of $1 million.

DNA tests confirmed that the baby, named Maria Mae Betts, was Jessica Betts' daughter.

Police Capt. Rob Jackson said investigators are looking into other evidence, including the diaries, but said there is only one homicide investigation in progress.

According to the documents, Jessica Betts told police she delivered a baby girl in the bathroom of her boyfriend's house, wrapped the newborn in a pair of purple sweatpants and a towel, and drove to Save Mart in her boyfriend's white Chevrolet, where she cried as her baby's breathing slowed and then stopped.

The infant's body was in a white Target bag with its top tied closed, according to the man who found her. Jeff Merrow, 49, of Turlock said the girl's umbilical cord was attached when she was discovered in the afternoon. She was blue and didn't seem to be breathing, Merrow said.

Jessica Betts told detectives she didn't know how the newborn got in the Dumpster.

Lillie Betts told police her daughter had gained a "drastic" amount of weight but refused to take a pregnancy test. Friends of Jessica Betts also approached Lillie Betts and congratulated her on becoming a grandmother, according to the search warrant.

It was more than a coincidence that her daughter also owned a pair of purple sweatpants, Lillie Betts told police. When Lillie Betts confronted her daughter, Jessica Betts denied any involvement, the search warrant says.

Lillie Betts declined to comment when contacted Monday night.

It is not clear from the documents how long Jessica Betts has lived in a single-family home on English Avenue in Turlock with her boyfriend and his father.

Dad says he had no idea

Jessica Betts told police her baby was alive when she gave birth on Nov. 8, and she tried to conceal the baby's cries so those in the house wouldn't discover she had been pregnant. When her boyfriend, 22-year-old Paul Alexander Aguiar, questioned her about the large amount of blood in the bathroom, she told him she was menstruating, according to the document. Aguiar told police he didn't know she was pregnant or had given birth.

Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees said there are no charges pending against Aguiar.

Contacted at the home Monday, Aguiar was silent as he hung his head and stared at the floor. But Aguiar's father said DNA testing confirmed that his son was the father of the baby.

"We wish the best for Jessica. She needs help," said Aguiar's father, who would not give his name. "This is a good family. ... My son is clean with everything. We want answers, too."

Aguiar's father owns the home, which is less than a mile from the trash bin where the newborn was found the day Betts gave birth. At Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock, where Betts could have legally surrendered her daughter, the baby's core body temperature was 84 degrees, indicating that she had not been dead for long.

Police worked the case for nearly two weeks -- some detectives reportedly put in 20-hour days -- before Lillie Betts' tip the morning of Nov. 20. By 3 p.m. that day, her daughter was in custody.

That same day, police searched Aguiar's house. They swabbed the bathroom and the inside of a Dodge Stratus. They confiscated a bathroom rug and towels, a mobile phone and a flash drive for a computer, the document said.

At the jail, Jessica Betts gave three vials of blood. Within two weeks, it was determined that she is the dead baby's mother.

Betts is scheduled to be back in Stanislaus County Superior Court Jan. 15. She is being represented by the public defender's office.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at or 578-2337.

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