State

Murder charge in Turlock baby case

The infant found in a Turlock Dumpster has a name: Maria Mae Betts.

And authorities charged Jessica Mae Betts, the 19-year-old woman police believe is her mother, with first-degree murder Monday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

The district attorney's office added an enhancement: that Betts acted "intentionally, deliberately and with premeditation."

Betts pleaded not guilty but faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted, Judge Donald Shaver said.

"This is not a death penalty case, so that's not something that would happen based on these charges," Shaver told Betts.

Shaver set Betts' bail at $1 million. She is housed at the Stanislaus County Public Safety Center in Modesto. Betts arrived in the courtroom shackled at her wrists and ankles, with five sheriff's deputies surrounding her and guarding the back door.

When the judge asked Betts if she wanted time to hire an attorney, Betts did not respond, at first.

After some explanation from Deputy Public Defender Sonny Sandhu, she told Shaver in a weak voice: "I can't afford an attorney."

Shaver appointed the public defender's office to represent Betts.

Betts' family declined to speak after the arraignment.

Family members often are given the chance to name a child after death, police said, but no one at the county coroner's office Monday knew who named the child Maria Mae. But the newborn is listed under that name on the criminal complaint.

On the afternoon of Nov. 8, Turlock police received a report that an infant had been found in a Dumpster at the Save Mart parking lot in the 1600 block of Lander Avenue, police have said.

The infant was warm to the touch but appeared to be dead when emergency crews arrived, police said. The infant was taken to a hospital, where the baby was pronounced dead.

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

Police have not found the baby's father, said Capt. Rob Jackson, adding that the focus of the investigation has been on Betts.

A pretrial hearing is set for Dec. 9.

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

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