Student guilty in death of newborn Judge lets her return to school

September 28, 1993|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Staff Writer

A Wheeling College nursing student from Gambrills, charged by authorities in West Virginia with murdering her newborn, pleaded guilty yesterday to the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter and is back attending classes, her attorney said.

In an unusual arrangement, first-degree murder charges against Suzanne M. Fenton were reduced to voluntary manslaughter, her attorney, Martin P. Sheehan said. Circuit Judge George Spillers ordered her to be placed on a "modified bond status," which will require that her case be reviewed in two years.

If she follows Judge Spillers' orders to continue psychological counseling and does not break any other laws, she may withdraw her guilty plea and enter a plea to a further reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter, Mr. Sheehan said.

"She is acknowledging with this plea that she intentionally caused the death of this baby and with that acknowledgment, justice has been served," said Melvin Kale, the prosecuting attorney.

"There was significant evidence of Miss Fenton's denial of her pregnancy," he said. "Although she had been to a physician in July who told her she was pregnant, she had convinced herself that she was not."

Fenton, of the 200 block of Huntwood Drive, was charged with first-degree murder in December by police in Wheeling, W.Va. Investigators said Fenton delivered the baby in her dorm room at Wheeling College Dec. 7.

Authorities said Fenton put the child's corpse in a garbage bag and then in a gym bag and carried it in her car until Dec. 10, when she drove to a garbage bin outside an office complex. Employees there told police they saw a young woman throwing the bag in the bin.

Police were able to track Fenton through the description of her car and items found with the baby. Autopsy reports indicated the child was not stillborn and that it had injuries to the head. Authorities theorized that Fenton hid her pregnancy to protect her relationship with her boyfriend.

According to several psychologists, including one hired by the prosecution, Fenton was in a state of "clinical denial" on Dec. 7 and did not consciously know she was pregnant, her attorney said yesterday.

"Her mind told her she was not pregnant, and her body followed," Mr. Sheehan said. "It's just the opposite of the woman who wants to be pregnant and her body begins to grow as if she was."

Fenton was given two polygraph tests, one by the defense and the other by the prosecution. They confirmed that she believed the child was born dead, that she gave birth in a standing position after taking a shower to relieve cramps and that she did not hit or throw the baby, Mr. Sheehan said.

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