The saga of Nicole Marie Beecroft, the Oakdale teenage mom who stabbed her newborn baby daughter 135 times, took a new turn Friday when a Washington County district judge convicted her a second time — but on a reduced charge.
Judge John C. Hoffman's finding of second-degree intentional murder means that Beecroft, now 24, no longer will serve a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. In ruling that he found no evidence of premeditation, required for a life sentence, Hoffman wrote:
"Defendant reacted in a panic mode as a result of being a scared, immature and unsupported young girl who was required to make momentous adult determinations without supportive adult guidance from those that she loved and trusted."
Beecroft has already served more than six years behind bars on the original indictment of first-degree premeditated murder for killing her baby in April 2007 in the basement of the house she shared with her mother. She was 17 years old at the time and a senior at Tartan High School. She had disguised her pregnancy and was alone when she gave birth.
Hoffman's findings come two months after the conclusion of Beecroft's second trial, in Stillwater, involving several medical doctors who testified on the central question of whether Beecroft's baby was born alive or dead. The judge determined that prosecutors Karin McCarthy and Siv Yurichuk had proved conclusively that Beecroft caused her baby's death.
"The defense expert witness testimony, forensic analyses, and evidence offered in support of Defendant do not create a reasonable doubt as to whether Baby Beecroft was live born at the time Defendant stabbed and fatally wounded Beecroft," Hoffman wrote.
Sentencing guidelines for Beecroft's new conviction range between 21 years 8 months to 30 years 6 months. County Attorney Pete Orput said he will seek an even tougher sentence than the maximum — known in law as an "upward departure" — because of what he said was the aggravated nature of the crime.
"Are we disappointed? Yes, but we accept it," Orput said of Hoffman's verdict. "We're satisfied that we had an opportunity to try it. We put a great deal of time into trying this case."
One of Beecroft's defense attorneys, Luke Stellpflug, said Hoffman's decision was "somewhat disappointing but not wholly unexpected" given the complexity of the case. Beecroft, he said, was "heartened" that the Minnesota Supreme Court in May 2012 granted her a new trial and the lesser conviction gives her some hope.
"If that's the only silver lining we can expect right now, that will have to suffice for the moment," he said.
Chose bench trial over jury
Hoffman decided the case because Beecroft and her attorneys, Stellpflug and Christine Funk, wanted a bench trial rather than have it heard before a jury. Another Washington County judge, Mary Hannon, presided over the first trial.
Hoffman's verdict on a reduced charge — absent the mandatory life sentence — removes the Beecroft case from any further discussion related to Miller vs. Alabama, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that cast doubt on mandatory sentences for teenagers who commit murder. While not excluding mandatory sentences, the ruling said courts must weigh mitigating factors of youth before imposing sentences.
In July, Beecroft rejected a plea offer from Orput's office that was identical to her second conviction. The rejection left prosecutors shaking their heads, but Stellpflug said then that additional expert witnesses who hadn't testified in the first trial would prove that the baby was born dead and Beecroft would be acquitted.
The plea offer could have freed her within seven years.
Hoffman, in his finding, criticized circumstances that led to the baby's birth — and death.
He described Beecroft's mother as "aggressive, assertive and confrontational" when she learned her daughter have given birth, "thereby exasperating the shame and lack of support that in this Court's estimation caused Defendant to hide her pregnancy in the first place."
Beecroft's family had an expectation that she would become the first girl in her family to complete high school without becoming pregnant, Hoffman wrote.
Beecroft's mother died this summer of cancer.
The judge ordered that Beecroft remain in custody until sentencing, for which no date has been set. She is being held in the Washington County jail.