A St. Paul woman pleaded guilty Friday to drowning her 6-year-old daughter in the family’s bathtub days before Christmas in 2014.
In a soft voice overpowered at times by family members sobbing in the courtroom gallery, Kayla M. Jones admitted that she held Azaria Jones’ head underwater until the girl stopped kicking.
“Ms. Jones,” asked Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Rachel Kraker, “What were you trying to do when you held your baby — your daughter — under the water?”
“Kill her,” Jones answered.
Jones, 26, entered a straight plea in Ramsey County District Court to second-degree murder with intent. The plea deal calls for a sentence of about 16 ½ years.
It’s unclear if Jones will serve her time at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, where she has been committed for an indeterminate amount of time on a separate civil matter, or at the women’s prison in Shakopee.
Jones, who has been treated for mental illness since the age of 9, was initially found incompetent to stand trial in the Dec. 23, 2014, murder — a decision that was later reversed.
Under questioning from Kraker, Jones told the court Thursday that before she drowned her daughter, she had gone for a walk with her boyfriend. When the two returned to their St. Paul apartment in the 1300 block of Maynard Avenue E., they argued about their relationship.
Jones’ boyfriend, who is not Azaria’s father, left. Jones and Azaria were home alone.
Kraker asked Jones if she believed that Azaria had been sexually abused.
“Yes,” Jones said, not elaborating on who she believed had abused her daughter. A Ramsey County attorney spokesman said nothing in the medical examiner’s report or the course of investigation substantiates the sexual abuse claim.
Kraker asked Jones what she did next.
“I killed her,” Jones answered.
The murder charge filed against Jones quoted her as telling authorities that she had drowned her daughter after watching television and hearing, “Save the child, don’t send him … to the monster,” and that the act was an attempt to “save her from this world.”
There has been no clarity about whether there was any evidence of abuse, and the matter was not discussed further at the plea hearing.
Jones testified Thursday that she woke up Azaria, who walked to the bathroom in her pajamas, and then put her in the filled bathtub.
“Did she get into the bathtub willingly?” Kraker asked.
“Yes,” Jones said.
After killing her daughter, Jones left the apartment to go buy cigarettes at a nearby store and ran into her boyfriend on the walk there. She told the court that she instructed him to call 911 and then called 911 herself from the store.
Police responded to the couple’s Highland Park apartment at 8:10 a.m., where a water-soaked Jones raised her hands and surrendered to authorities.
A woman who attended Thursday’s plea hearing in support of Jones declined to comment after the hearing.
Two women and a man who showed up in support of Azaria and her side of the family also declined to speak. One woman wore a shirt that read, “Grandma’s baby.” The man wore a T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of Azaria’s grave site, Azaria’s name tattooed in large lettering across his forearm.
Kraker said that Azaria’s father and paternal relatives were “struggling” with whether Jones was facing enough prison time but that they accepted the plea deal.
Jones is scheduled to be sentenced on June 22.