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Charge thrown out in infant death

Ruling means homicide charges cannot be filed against a USC student whose newborn son was found dead in a trash bin two years ago.

June 13, 2007|John Spano | Times Staff Writer

A judge Tuesday dismissed a murder charge against a 22-year-old USC student whose newborn son was found dead in a trash bin nearly two years ago.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Samuel Mayerson ruled that charges against Holly Ashcraft had been dismissed twice -- first murder and then involuntary manslaughter -- the maximum allowed to prosecutors under state law. In effect, he ruled that no more homicide charges can be filed against her relating to the death of her son.

Mayerson tentatively ruled Monday against a defense motion to throw out the case but changed his mind.

Prosecutors said they may appeal. The decision leaves Ashcraft facing trial for child abuse resulting in death. If convicted, she could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Defense attorney Mark Geragos predicted he would win if prosecutors appeal. "My hope is that they just let it go at this point," he said. "She has been through quite a bit."

Geragos said Mayerson also loosened bail restrictions. Ashcraft is now allowed to leave her house for extended periods, but must be home at night. She has not returned to school.

"Now that the murder case has been dismissed, we are going to attempt to get her back into USC," Geragos said.

Ashcraft, of Billings, Mont., was arrested in October 2005 after the newborn's body was found by a homeless man sifting through trash behind a restaurant-bar that was a popular USC student hangout. An autopsy concluded that the baby had been born alive. Geragos had argued that the infant had been stillborn.

Superior Court Judge David Wesley had ruled in March that prosecutors lacked evidence that Ashcraft had criminal intent, and therefore she could not be charged with murder.

The prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Franco Baratta, had refiled a second murder charge after Wesley had dismissed the first. Geragos argued the technical point that Wesley had initiated manslaughter charges when he dismissed the first murder charges, and therefore Baratta had to dismiss them before he could refile the second murder charges.

"There were two dismissals: one by [Wesley] and one by the district attorney," Geragos argued.

Both Baratta and Geragos agreed that Mayerson had decided that Wesley lacked the legal authority to initiate the manslaughter charges in the first place. But Mayerson concluded that he lacked the authority to overrule Wesley.

Mayerson asked both sides to appeal the case on Monday to obtain a definitive decision by appeals judges.

"Let me tell you folks, this is not a simple issue," he said in court.

john.spano@latimes.com

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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