In the end, Judge Mary Hannon ruled Monday that the evidence was clear: Oakdale teenager Nicole Beecroft planned the death of her newborn daughter, stabbed her more than 100 times and threw the baby's body into a trash can outside her house.
The judge found Beecroft guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced her to life in prison without parole.
Beecroft, dressed in a brown suit with her hair stretched into braided pigtails, wept when Hannon pronounced the verdict in Washington County District Court. Bee-croft declined to make a statement before Hannon sentenced her.
"I'm really sad," County Attorney Doug Johnson said outside the courtroom afterward. "It's a waste of two lives."
The trial by judge in a first-degree murder case in adult court -- Bee-croft waived her right to a jury trial -- is rare, Johnson said. He thinks it's the first such trial in the 22 years that he's worked for Washington County.
The attorneys in his office who prosecuted the case, Heather Pipenhagen and John Fristik, said Beecroft had considered leaving the baby at a hospital before she gave birth at her home in the early morning hours on April 10, 2007, but instead decided to kill her. Minnesota law permits such abandonment within 72 hours of birth to ensure a baby's welfare.
Beecroft stabbed the baby 135 times in the neck, chest and abdomen. Several of the wounds penetrated the baby's vital organs, Hannon said before she sentenced Beecroft.
"Defendant Beecroft denied her pregnancy and made no plans for the child's future," Hannon said from the bench. She also said Beecroft made false statements to investigators.
Minutes after Hannon concluded the sentencing hearing, angry words flew outside the courtroom when some of Beecroft's relatives took issue with a young man who claimed to be the baby's father.
A court advocate quickly led the young man and his mother away. Minutes earlier, they had submitted victim impact statements for the court record but didn't want them read aloud. The courtroom remained silent while the judge studied the statements, one of which was four pages long, she said.
Beecroft was 17 and a senior at Tartan High School in Oakdale when the birth occurred. The overweight girl hid her pregnancy and even her mother didn't know, according to court documents.
The Ramsey County medical examiner's office ruled that the baby, whom the judge called "Female Beecroft," was born alive and bled to death from the stab wounds. Beecroft told police she panicked and stabbed the baby girl after seeing her move a finger.
Public defender Christine Funk had argued in previous hearings that some neonaticide research on teenage girls who hide their pregnancy and deliver alone, as Beecroft did, indicated that they are not capable of premeditated killing.
But prosecutor Pipenhagen told Hannon that a New York judge rejected the neonaticide syndrome theory -- that a teenage mother can have a psychotic breakdown at childbirth -- in the only case Pipenhagen could find in which the theory was raised.
Funk and her co-counsel, Luke Stellphlug, also challenged the life sentence -- mandatory under Minnesota law for first-degree murder -- as unconstitutional, saying it represented cruel and unusual punishment. But Hannon denied that motion Monday, saying she wasn't able to make that determination.
As he was leaving the courthouse, Stellphlug said that a first-degree murder conviction gets an automatic appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court and that Beecroft received "a disproportionate sentence." Beecroft's situation, he said, is similar to that of many other pregnant teenagers.
Pipenhagen and Fristik said that they were satisfied with the verdict and that the evidence showed that Beecroft was deliberate in her determination to kill her baby.
"There are no winners in this case. There's nothing in this case to be happy about," Pipenhagen said.
Beecroft was taken to the women's prison in Shakopee, where she'll be held for the rest of her life.
Kevin Giles • 651-298-1554