In the many months Nicole Beecroft sat in the Washington County jail while awaiting sentencing for the stabbing death of her newborn daughter, she tried to scare fellow prisoners into submission and take charge of the women’s unit.
Her behavior was so bad, jail administrators say, that when she recently requested a transfer to a local prison, they were more than happy to see her go.
“She was very subversive and manipulative by trying to run the pod,” said Roger Heinen, the jail’s deputy administrator. “She tried to be the alpha person in charge of the female unit.”
Beecroft’s violations and a disciplinary history that included lockdowns, loss of visiting privileges and other sanctions are now figuring prominently into a sentencing debate in Washington County District Court that will determine whether she spends decades behind bars or serves less time. That duel has delayed Judge John Hoffman’s decision on her fate until Aug. 29.
Defense attorney Luke Stellpflug, citing Beecroft’s immaturity when she committed the crime, is seeking a more lenient sentence than state guidelines recommend. He also said the jail infractions are overstated.
“These bullying allegations are the product of rivalries, ill will and general rancor from malcontents housed with Ms. Beecroft,” said Stellpflug, who took exception to suggestions that she tried to run the jail.
But prosecutors, citing the cruelty of the crime and her behavior in jail, want the maximum sentence for second-degree murder — 40 years.
“She is not the sweet and rehabilitated person that the defense would have the court believe,” they wrote in court documents, arguing that Beecroft’s numerous jail violations showed a lack of remorse.
Killed her newborn
Beecroft, now 24, was only 17 when she was convicted of first-degree murder for stabbing her newborn baby to death in Oakdale. She was sent to prison with no possibility of parole, but in 2012 the Minnesota Supreme Court granted her a new trial on grounds of witness tampering. In a bench trial last fall, Hoffman found her guilty of second-degree murder, a lesser charge.
Because of her unusual legal journey, she wound up in the Washington County jail in June 2012 and stayed there until her transfer to the Shakopee women’s prison on May 14. During that lengthy jail stay, she repeatedly violated the rules.
County records show Beecroft’s misbehavior started with offenses such as trading food and interfering with inmate counts. She later progressed to defiant displays of affection with another female prisoner and to racial slurs and threats of physical harm.
One jail incident report said women complained that she was “controlling the unit and bullying certain individuals. She is not only doing it herself but delegating others in the unit to pick on people of her choice.”
After Beecroft’s initial arrest in 2007, she was jailed in Washington County. After her first murder conviction, she was sent to the Shakopee prison, then transferred to a prison in South Dakota before being sent back to Shakopee and, ultimately, spending 702 consecutive days in the Washington County jail.
Chuck Yetter, the jail commander, said Beecroft used “sophisticated” ploys she learned while first in prison to manipulate and control weaker prisoners, many of whom were incarcerated for the first time or were vulnerable because of mental problems. The jail houses about 25 women on average.
Heinen and Yetter said Beecroft didn’t control other jail prisoners through beatings. Rather, she threatened physical harm either personally or through alliances, and many women found that intimidating because of her heavy physical stature, they said.
“What we saw was a young lady in pigtails when she was arrested and after seven years, she grew up,” said Yetter, whose background includes working as a corrections officer at three Minnesota prisons.
Means of survival
In arguing for a lighter sentence, Stellpflug said “minor disciplinary transgressions” in jail shouldn’t keep Beecroft from being considered for probation because she had been incarcerated 2,589 consecutive days — or slightly more than seven years.
He also said Beecroft had expressed no concerns about trouble while in the jail and wanted to sometimes go to an outside exercise yard, which the jail doesn’t have. She had learned to “talk tough, appear indifferent” in prison as a means of survival, he said.
But prosecutors Karin McCarthy and Siv Yurichuk of the Washington County attorney’s office have asked for the maximum sentence. Said Yurichuk, “I think her record in the jail shows that she doesn’t take directives and doesn’t follow rules and policies and procedures.”
Minnesota Department of Corrections records show that Beecroft committed several infractions at the Shakopee prison, all of them in 2009, before she was transferred to South Dakota after she threatened to escape. Infractions included disobeying a direct order and disorderly conduct. She also was disciplined for smuggling, possession of contraband and “unauthorized control, theft, possession, transfer or use of property.”
Stellpflug said he couldn’t find any justification for Beecroft’s transfer to South Dakota for the “escape nonsense” because other inmates who heard her talk about it said she was joking.
Heinen, at the county jail, said Beecroft was skilled at manipulating people.
“She knew what buttons to push to stay in power,” he said.