After murder charges were dismissed four times, prosecutors finally gave up three years after the dead body of a baby was found in a trash bin near the University of Southern California campus, offering Holly Ashcraft a plea deal
where she would plead no contest to child endangerment resulting in death and would receive a sentence of time already served - about 30 days of jail time and about 695 days of electronic monitoring. She also will be placed on five years' probation.
The infant was found in a Dumpster behind the 29th Street Cafe, in a card-board box, by a homeless man, in October of 2005, and DNA testing proved the baby belonged to Ashcraft.
Originally Ashcraft was charged with the abandonment and death of her newborn. Commissioner Ronald Rose determined
that a murder case could not proceed without knowing the clear cause of death and what Ashcraft could have done to save the infant or if she was capable of doing so.
Judge David S. Wesley was asked to overrule the Commissioner's judgment and ruled that he could do so because there was "no evidence that the baby would have survived had she sought care".
Wesley then went on to cite prior case where a caregiver did not provide aid to a newborn infant, and said the failure to act could be consistent with a charge of involuntary manslaughter. Wesley then dismissed the murder charges and replaced it with a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
The prosecutors found this unacceptable because they believed they had evidence, from the coroner that led them to believe the baby was alive at the time of birth, so they dismissed the charges "without prejudice" so they could refile murder charges and introduce new evidence.
The new evidence introduced by Deputy District Attorney Franco Baratta was a phone call he received from the coroner, who told him that there was blood in the baby's umbilical cord to which Deputy medical examiner David B. Whiteman came to the conclusion that the baby's heart was beating when the umbilical cord was severed supported the prosecutors assertions that the baby was alive at the time of birth.
That argument was heard by Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy, who concluded last December that, "What she's done is disturbing . . . it's disgusting . . . but I don't think the people have proven murder. The evidence is not there."
to support that theory was more testimony from Whiteman saying the baby's lungs were partially inflated, indicating a live birth.
For three years prosecutors fought to charge Ashcraft with murdering her baby and further evidence suggested this was not the first time something like this had happened because in 2004 Ashcraft had gone to a Los Angeles hospital because she was bleeding and the doctors confirmed she had given birth.
Ashcraft was investigated by police, but not arrested or charged because no body was found.
Robert Pugsley, who is a professor at the Southwestern Law School, does not blame the prosecutors
, saying, "They were expressing the community's interest in saving newborns from this kind of fate, especially at the hands of somebody that allegedly had done it once before. The fact that judges found insufficiency in the proof is no negative reflection on the office of the district attorney, as reflected in the seriousness of the event. They did their absolute best to bring a case against this woman."
Other experts believe the state pushed too hard for murder charges and should have gone with the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter
Stan Goldman, a professor at Loyola Law School, is one of those people and he says, "I realize they are trying to seek justice for the victims, but how many resources go into prosecuting a murder charge like this when the state could have pursued or perhaps even settled it as a manslaughter case? Sometimes you end up losing the war by trying to fight every battle."
More on the case from original reports when the infant was first found in 2005, found here
Some are expressing outrage
over this plea deal and others believe that this offers more proof to the old adage that "Justice is blind".