The child known in court documents as Baby Beecroft would have been 7 years old now and starting second grade.
Instead, she's buried under figurines, balloons and spinning pinwheels in Guardian Angels Catholic Cemetery in Oakdale, where her gravestone identifies her as Angel Marie Ross. She was born and died on the same day.
On Friday, the mother who killed her seven years ago stood before a Washington County judge to tell of her remorse before being sentenced on a conviction of intentional second-degree murder. Nicole Beecroft, her high-pitched voice quavering with sobs, explained she was "a child myself" when she stabbed her baby daughter 135 times and threw her into a trash bin outside her house in April 2007.
"All I ask, your honor, is to keep in mind how much I've grown and how immature I was when I committed this horrible mistake," said Beecroft, a teenager when she gave birth.
"I take full responsibility for my actions, your honor, and ask for your mercy."
With that, District Judge John Hoffman sentenced Beecroft to 14 years and six months in prison. From that, he subtracted 2,699 days — more than seven years — that she already has served in prison or jail. Once Beecroft is out, she will serve another seven years on supervised release.
The judge's decision came at the end of an emotional hearing in Stillwater in which the baby's paternal grandmother, Tina Ross, unexpectedly came to Beecroft's defense.
"We don't want her to have life in prison," said Ross, whose son was the baby's father.
Hoffman rejected prosecutors' request for a tougher sentence and a defense motion for leniency, deciding instead on a sentence toward the middle of state sentencing guidelines.
"The case is a tragedy for all involved," Hoffman said in court. "Baby Beecroft lost her right to live among us and be supported by family members who loved her."
Beecroft was 17 when she was convicted of first-degree murder in 2007 for the stabbing death. 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 intentional second-degree murder, a lesser charge.
Prosecutor Karin McCarthy argued for a 40-year prison sentence on grounds that Beecroft, who grew up in Oakdale, showed "significant rage and force" in killing her baby and never expressed remorse for her crime.
"This beautiful little girl should be learning how to ride a bike, how to read," McCarthy told the judge. "This beautiful baby was never loved, never held."
Defense attorney Luke Stellpflug said the prosecution was attempting to punish Beecroft for not pleading guilty and wanting a trial. He also said "this is a case that fits the classic physical and medical definition of neonaticide," when mothers deny pregnancies and kill their babies in the first 24 hours of life.
Hoffman said he couldn't conclude from testimony of six "well-respected" medical doctors that Beecroft killed her baby with particular cruelty. However, evidence showed that she was born alive and therefore vulnerable to the knife attack, he said.
Hoffman also said he was satisfied that Beecroft was being reasonably punished.
"Defendant has been and will be deterred by a prison sentence that for all intents and purposes will take Ms. Beecroft very nearly out of child bearing range; it is highly unlikely to this court that defendant will ever be in a position to harm a child again," he wrote in his sentencing order.
Ross, in an interview after the hearing, said Beecroft had stayed with her family off and on for three years before the baby was born.
"She's not a mean or vicious person. She never was," Ross said of Beecroft.
Tiny Angel, her body riddled with stab wounds, was buried after both families pooled money to pay for her funeral, said Ross, whose nephew carried the small casket to the grave site.
"We can't bring back Angel," Ross said Friday. "It helps us to forgive."