Nicole Marie Beecroft’s future now awaits a verdict from a Washington County District Judge, who will sift through a mountain of scientific testimony to decide whether she killed her newborn baby.
Through seven days of trial, Chief Judge John Hoffman viewed hundreds of autopsy photographs and slides of other medical evidence that prosecution and defense attorneys showed him to argue a central question: Was Baby Beecroft alive or dead when her 17-year-old mother stabbed her 135 times?
Beecroft, now 24, has spent six years in prison on a sentence of life without parole for first-degree premeditated murder after giving birth to a daughter in the basement of her Oakdale home. Last summer, the state Supreme Court ordered a new trial for her on the original indictment.
Beecroft and her attorneys chose a bench trial this month rather than argue the emotional case in front of a jury. Hoffman reminded Beecroft at a pretrial hearing that a verdict would be his alone and asked her repeatedly if she wanted to change her mind.
The trial ended this week without attorneys giving their customary closing arguments because Hoffman requested “findings of fact” instead. A verdict might not be forthcoming for two months, Fred Fink, criminal division chief in the Washington County attorney’s office, said Thursday.
Beecroft and her attorneys rejected a plea agreement from the county attorney’s office that would have reduced the charge against her to second-degree murder. Defense attorney Luke Stellpflug said after the hearing that he and colleague Christine Funk were confident their client would be acquitted because witnesses would prove the baby was stillborn before she was stabbed, or at least cast reasonable doubt on the prosecution’s contention that the baby was alive.
If Hoffman finds Beecroft guilty of first-degree murder, a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Miller vs. Alabama will figure into her sentencing. That ruling cast doubt on mandatory sentences for teenagers who commit murder. While not excluding possible life terms in prison without parole, the ruling said courts must weigh mitigating factors of youth before imposing sentences.