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Woman Found Guilty in Death of Her Newborn

Infanticide: From the start, Teresa Sanchez, 22, of Santa Ana denied she gave birth to the boy, found asphyxiated in a trash bin.

July 29, 1997|HOPE HAMASHIGE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA ANA — In spite of her insistence that she was not the mother of a newborn found dead last year, a 22-year-old Santa Ana woman was convicted Monday of the murder of the infant.

The boy was alive and healthy, weighed 7 pounds and was 21 inches long when he was born on March 15, 1996, authorities said.

He was found the next day, dead from asphyxiation, in a trash bin behind the apartment that Teresa Sanchez shared with her mother, two brothers, a sister-in-law and several children, including her 17-month-old son.

Sanchez, who faces 25 years to life in prison, is to be sentenced Sept. 26.

The defendant never admitted that the child was hers. Prosecutors said she told a police investigator after her arrest that she had been pregnant but that she miscarried after two months.

Her brothers and mother all testified during the trial she could be neither the mother nor the killer of the child because she had not been pregnant.

However, the jury convicted her on evidence linking her to the baby.

A medical examination shortly after Sanchez was arrested determined that she had been pregnant and had recently given birth to a child that she carried for at least seven months, according to evidence presented during her trial.

The baby was deposited in the bin in a plastic shopping bag among several other discarded items that police said were taken from the bathroom of the Sanchez home.

During the trial, prosecutors painted a portrait of a young woman engaged in months of deceit.

She lied about her pregnancy from the beginning, prosecutors said, and when neighbors and her employer asked if she were expecting a child, she denied it.

The phenomenon of infanticide and neonaticide--killing a child within the first hours of life--has drawn increasing attention in recent months. One of the most widely publicized cases was that of Melissa Drexler, a 19-year-old New Jersey teenager who authorities said gave birth in a restroom during her high school prom, then returned to the dance floor.

In Orange County, half a dozen cases of infanticide are investigated in a typical year, officials said.

Experts in the area of pregnancy-related mental disorders said after the verdict Monday that Sanchez might have suffered from an illness that led her to kill the infant.

Some pregnant women deny their condition, said Jane Honikman, director of Postpartum Support International in Santa Barbara, an organization that sets up support groups.

"It is some form of dissociative state. Their brain is not connecting," said Honikman. "They don't know what they are doing."

Dr. Bruce Danto, a Fullerton forensic psychiatrist, said that for many women, pregnancy is unwanted and can send them into a deep depression. That mental state, he said, is the root of subsequent behavior against the child.

Defense strategies based on claims of such disorders have had varying degrees of success in court.

Jackie Lynn Anderson, a Fullerton resident, was convicted in January of killing her child despite her contention she suffered from pregnancy-related depression.

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