State

Turlock mom gets 8 years in baby death

Jessica Mae Betts will not face charges she murdered her newborn daughter in November 2008, but she was given an eight-year prison sentence under the terms of a plea deal announced in court Thursday.

Betts pleaded no contest to felony child abuse that caused the death of her daughter, Maria Mae Betts.

A judge said in December there was enough evidence for Betts, 20, to stand trial on a first-degree murder charge. But prosecutors reduced the charge in light of testimony from a pathologist who said there was no way to prove medically if the baby was born alive or how and when she died.

"It was a tragedy for all concerned," prosecutor Annette Rees said. "I think we struck a fair and just result."

When news reports broke about a dead baby found in a Turlock trash bin, Betts' mother went to police with her suspicions — that the child was her daughter's. Authorities identified Betts' fingerprints on the plastic shopping bag wrapped around the girl.

Lillie Betts cried at the hearing in Stanislaus County Superior Court as she looked at her daughter, whose long hair was curled in ringlets, and asked for forgiveness.

"I didn't want to hurt her in any way," Lillie Betts said. "I hope that Jessica will someday forgive me, but I know in my heart that I tried to raise her the best that I could."

Betts' mother vowed to help educate people about the Safely Surrendered Baby Law, which encourages parents to leave an infant at a "safe surrender site," such as a hospital, within 72 hours of the child's birth.

"I have had so many people tell me that they did not know about safe surrender," Lillie Betts said. "I will go into the schools, to any place I can speak out. I don't want any parent to have to hold her grandbaby in her arms at the coroner's office like I did."

Jessica Betts had pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder and faced a maximum sentence of life in prison if she had been convicted on that count.

Rees said Betts continuously denied being pregnant even after her friends, co-workers, mother and boyfriend confronted her.

According to testimony at a December hearing, 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.

Betts told police 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.

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

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