Crime

Tacoma woman gets 10 years for murder of baby born in toilet at home

Staff writerNovember 15, 2013 

A Tacoma woman who gave birth on the toilet and let her newborn die there was sentenced Friday to 10 years, three months in prison.

Melissa McMillen, 22, was convicted during a bench trial in Pierce County Superior Court earlier this year of second-degree murder in her daughter’s death. Judge Frank Cuthbertson, who heard the evidence and determined McMillen’s guilt, also found that her daughter was “a particularly vulnerable victim.”

That finding allowed prosecutors to seek a sentence above the standard range of 10 years, three months to 18 years, four months in prison.

McMillen gave birth June 4, 2011, in the basement of her father’s home. She left her daughter in the toilet for 90 minutes before placing the girl’s body in a book bag and leaving it in the house for at least two days.

McMillen contended the girl was stillborn, but medical examiners determined she was a homicide victim.

Deputy prosecutors Bryce Nelson and Erika Nohavec on Friday argued for a sentence of 40 years.

Nelson told Judge Frank Cuthbertson that McMillen deserved a four-decade sentence because her daughter “was left to die in a cold, dark, basement toilet.”

“It doesn’t get much more particularly vulnerable than this,” the deputy prosecutor said. “It was intentional. It was thought out.”

Nohavec said the killing was the culmination of an effort by McMillen to hide an unwanted pregnancy.

“Facts at trial showed the defendant did not want to be a mother and never intended to be a mother,” she said.

Defense attorney Anna Woods asked for a sentence of five years. Her client deserved a sentence below the standard range because she suffers from a condition called neonaticide syndrome, Woods argued.

Women who have the condition cannot accept their pregnancies, to the point where they deny they are pregnant despite evidence to the contrary and aren’t psychologically prepared when they give birth, according to court records Woods filed on McMillen’s behalf.

Women can’t use it as a defense against murder charges, but Woods argued Cuthbertson could consider it for sentencing purposes.

“I don’t think ‘blame’ is where we need to be,” Woods said. “Where we need to be is ‘understanding.’”

McMillen then got a chance to speak.

Speaking through tears, she said she is devastated by what she did to her daughter, and “I pray to my daughter every night, and I beg for her forgiveness.”

Cuthbertson then took his turn.

He said McMillen was “a classic case” of neonaticide syndrome and called the prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation “excessive.”

But the judge also rejected Woods’ request, opting instead for a sentence at the low end of the standard range.

“Ms. McMillen, that’s a lot of time. That’s 10 years in prison. I hope you use that time positively,” Cuthbertson said.

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