Mom held in infant's death

TURLOCK -- Police arrested a 19-year-old woman Thursday who they believe abandoned her newborn girl in a Dumpster this month.

Jessica Mae Betts of Turlock was booked on suspicion of first-degree murder at the Stanislaus County Public Safety Center in Modesto.

Someone walked into the Police Department on Thursday morning and gave police a tip that led them to Betts. They brought her in by 3 p.m.

Officials said they were confident the child was not stillborn, but gave no details on forensic evidence. The district attorney's office has reviewed the evidence, police said.

Capt. Rob Jackson said Betts was stoic and didn't become upset during her two-hour interview at the Turlock Police Department.

"I was a little surprised with the lack of remorse during the arrest," Jackson said. "That could have been her in shock, as well."

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Betts has no criminal rec- ord locally, Jackson said.

Sgt. Steve Williams said the investigation continues. Police said they have not positively identified the baby's father or "anyone else involved with the crime." Police don't have any other suspects besides Betts, but haven't ruled out the possibility that someone acted with her, Jackson said.

Jackson said Betts lived with other people, who seemed to be unaware of her pregnancy.

Police spoke with her fam- ily but would not release details about whether they knew Betts was pregnant.

"They're grieving right now," Jackson said. "Not only did they lose a granddaughter, they're also looking at a daughter going to prison for murder."

Williams reminded the public there's a legal way to surrender a baby. The Safely Surrendered Baby Law encourages parents or people with lawful custody to leave an infant at a "safe surrender site" within 72 hours of the child's birth. There was a safe surrender site a mile and half from where the Turlock baby was found.

The law provides a safe place for babies, protects parents from prosecution for child abandonment, does not require names be given and allows parents at least 14 days to reclaim the baby.

"This is a tragedy that absolutely could have been avoided," Williams said.

Since the law was enacted in 2001, six babies have been surrendered in Stanislaus County, according to the county Community Service Agency's Child and Family Services division.

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, Williams said.

The infant was warm to the touch but appeared to be dead when emergency crews arrived, Williams said. The infant was taken by ambulance 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 confirmed Merrow found the infant.

Officers have worked the case every day since the newborn was found, some of them putting in 20-hour shifts.

"Any time a child is involved," Jackson said, "it really hits home with people, especially if they're parents."

Williams said residents have called with tips, offers of support, and donated money to help with burial costs for the girl, whose body is at the coroner's office.

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