A Brooklyn Park woman pleaded guilty yesterday to attempted murder for her role in setting her home afire and trying to cover up what she and her husband thought was the death of her toddler son.
The woman's 29-year-old husband also pleaded guilty and was sentenced last week to 15 years in prison for his part in the plan.
After weeks of wavering that continued through yesterday's hearing, Margaret Dunnigan, 24, agreed to plead guilty to attempted murder in exchange for a 15-year cap on the sentence prosecutors will recommend, Assistant State's Attorney Kathleen Rogers said.
At times in tears during her hearing yesterday in Circuit Court, Dunnigan entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant acknowledges the existence of enough evidence to convict but does not admit guilt.
Prosecutors have said Dunnigan and her husband, Bernard Howard "Joseph" Dunnigan, immersed the boy in scalding water and left him on a couch while the husband set fire to the family's Brooklyn Park home on July 1, 1989.
Prosecutors say the couple was trying to cover up what they thought was the boy's death by beating at the husband's hands.
The boy, Steven Andrew Robinson, now 3, survived the ordeal but remains hospitalized in a vegetative state with no prospect for recovery.
Rogers has called the case "the worst I've seen."
A Pennsylvania man who pleaded guilty in March to arson had been prepared to testify against the Dunnigans, prosecutors said. In exchange, prosecutors did not pursue attempted murder charges again David Robert Pasko. Pasko, 22, has not yet been sentenced.
Prosecutors have said the boy broke a glass figurine, leading Bernard Dunnigan to become enraged and strike the child, leaving his stepson unconscious.
Fearing the boy might be dead, the Dunnigans and Pasko discussed covering up the incident. They filled a bathtub with scalding water and placed the child face down in it, prosecutors have said.
After removing the child from the water, they put him on a couch. The husband and Pasko bought some gasoline and poured it around the back door of the house, in the 900 block Victory Avenue.
The wife grabbed her other children, but left Steven and a 65-year-old deaf grandmother inside while her husband set the house on fire, prosecutors have said.
The grandmother escaped and was treated for smoke inhalation.
Margaret Dunnigan is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 14.