The question of whether Nicole Beecroft killed her newborn baby with particular cruelty landed before a Washington County judge on Friday, potentially delaying her sentencing next month.
Prosecutor Karin McCarthy argued that the crime included “aggravating factors” because the baby girl was unusually vulnerable and Beecroft, of Oakdale, stabbed her to death with repeated thrusts from scissors and a kitchen knife.
“I cannot imagine what this baby might have felt when the defendant carried out this vicious attack,” McCarthy told District Judge John Hoffman, relating how Beecroft later tossed the body into a garbage bin. “The defendant treated her baby as if it was nothing but a piece of trash, not a human being.”
Defense attorney Luke Stellpflug countered that newborn babies are vulnerable by nature and Beecroft “psychologically denied she was pregnant” because she was an unwed teenage mom with no family support.
“That child was arguably vulnerable throughout,” he said.
Stellpflug also said the number of stab wounds — 135 — inflicted was irrelevant because medical experts couldn’t determine at what point the baby died.
“It’s molestation of human remains. It has nothing to do with the crime my client has been convicted of,” Stellpflug said. He also named several past murder cases where mothers had received less prison time than what prosecutors seek for Beecroft.
McCarthy, of the Washington County Attorney’s office, said the cases Stellpflug mentioned were “negotiated pleas” while Beecroft rejected a plea offer, chose a trial and ultimately lost. McCarthy also objected to Stellpflug’s portrayal of Beecroft’s personal problems.
“Let’s be clear. The victim in this case is not the defendant, but the baby that she murdered,” McCarthy said.
Beecroft initially was found guilty of premeditated first-degree murder and sentenced in 2008. Last fall, she was convicted a second time — but on a reduced charge.
Hoffman’s finding of second-degree intentional murder meant Beecroft, now 24, won’t serve a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. The Minnesota Supreme Court had granted her a new trial because of allegations of witness tampering in the first trial.
Her sentencing is scheduled for May 12, but Hoffman said he might consider a delay if more time is needed to resolve motions over the severity of the crime.
Prosecutors could ask for an “upward departure” from state sentencing guidelines, meaning a maximum sentence of 40 years instead of the midrange “presumptive” sentence of 25 years. A defense motion could seek less time in prison.
Hoffman said he would take McCarthy’s motion under advisement. Beecroft, who turns 25 in July, has been held at the Washington County jail for nearly two years.