Mother charged in killing

Ex-Villa Julie student accused of murder in death of newborn


A former Villa Julie College student was charged yesterday with murdering her newborn daughter, whose body was found this fall in a storm drain in Prince George's County.

Danielle Eboni Riley, 21, of Forestville is accused of killing her baby shortly after giving birth in October in a dormitory at the Villa Julie satellite campus in Owings Mills, according to charging documents filed yesterday.

An autopsy concluded that Riley's baby died from head trauma, asphyxiation and environmental exposure, according to the charging documents. Police declined to elaborate yesterday on how or why they believe the infant was killed.

Riley surrendered to county police yesterday. Family members declined to comment as they waited to speak with officials at District Court in Towson. About an hour later, Riley, wearing jeans and a sweater, entered a court commissioner's office, where she was charged with first-degree murder. She was being held without bail last night at the Baltimore County Detention Center.

Villa Julie College spokesman Brian Shea issued a short written statement yesterday, saying, "The Villa Julie community remains saddened by this personal family tragedy. Federal privacy laws prevent us from further comments about this former student, who withdrew from classes in October."

The woman had expressed interest in playing for the school basketball team.

As many as 2,500 children 17 and younger are killed by caregivers in a typical year, said Richard J. Gelles, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy and Practice and author of several books on family violence. He said many such deaths are not categorized as homicides.

The risk of dying by homicide is greater in infancy than in any other year of childhood, according to the most recent study on the subject by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which looked at infant deaths from 1989 to 1998.

Among infant homicides during the first week of life, nearly 83 percent occurred on the day of birth, and 95 percent of the victims were not born in a hospital, according to the CDC report. The CDC study also concluded that 89 percent of those who kill their infants in the first week of life are the mothers, who are likely to be adolescents and have a history of mental illness.

Speaking generally about the issue, Gelles said cases in which a mother is accused of killing a baby soon after birth are often strikingly similar and seem to follow a pattern. They tend to involve women ages 18 or 19 from middle-class, often religious, families, who have hidden their pregnancies from family and friends.

"They may not even have told their boyfriends," Gelles said. "For whatever reasons, they tend to be girls who are low on social capital. There may not be a school counselor they can talk to, they don't want to talk to the boy about it. And when you're only talking to yourself, that's bad. ... You don't make good decisions."

Two New Jersey teenagers - both from wealthy families - pleaded guilty to manslaughter after their son was born in 1996 in a Delaware hotel room and later found in a trash bin. The young parents were freshmen in college at the time and hid the pregnancy from their parents and friends. Both teens served short prison sentences.

In 1998, another New Jersey teen's infant son was discovered in a trash bin after she gave birth during her high school prom. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

These types of cases have not been studied as much as they need to be, according to some psychologists and professors.

"Only in the last 10 years have people started recognizing the prevalence of depression during pregnancy and during the immediate postpartum period. How that might contribute to a woman's judgment, their sense of what is right and wrong, remains to be fully explored," said Larry Wissow, a professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the John Hopkins School of Public Health, also speaking generally.

Maryland's Safe Haven law allows a parent to anonymously abandon an infant within three days of birth without fear of prosecution, as long as the baby is left with a responsible adult, such as a member of the clergy, or at an appropriate place, such as a hospital or police station. However, state officials said yesterday that they have no verified records of the law having been used.

The police investigation into the death of the then-Villa Julie student's baby began when they were called to a residence hall on Oct. 3, according to court papers.

Riley's roommate told police that she tried to get into a bathroom earlier in the day, and that Riley had locked the door and said she was sick, police said. The student said she heard what might have been the cries of an infant. When the student later found blood in the bathroom, she notified campus security, which called county police, according to charging documents.

Detectives spoke with Riley's mother, and then went to a house in Clinton, court papers say. Police said that Riley told her mother she had given birth and that the baby took a breath and stopped breathing, according to charging documents. "She freaked out and I'm trying to find out where the baby is," police quoted Riley's mother saying of her daughter, according to court papers.

Less than a half-hour later, police said, Riley's mother told them that the baby was in the storm drain in front of the house, according to charging documents.

Keith Showstack, an attorney representing Riley, declined to comment on the case.

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