Woman gets 20 years in death of her baby

She gave birth in dorm, hid body in storm drain

March 16, 2007|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,SUN REPORTER

She was used to keeping secrets. As a young teenager, her lawyers said, she kept quiet about her mother's boyfriend sexually abusing her.

As a college basketball player, she concealed her pregnancy. And when she gave birth in the bathroom of their dorm room, she hid the baby's body in a garbage bag, then deposited it in a storm drain near her father's home.

Yesterday, some of 22-year-old Danielle Eboni Riley's secrets were discussed in a Baltimore County courtroom. Judge Vicki J. Ballou-Watts listened to details of the young woman's turbulent life, then sentenced the former Villa Julie College student to 20 years in prison for the murder of her newborn daughter.

"She nearly got away with murder," said John McKee, an assistant state's attorney. "But for her roommate ... we wouldn't know there was a murder. We wouldn't have known there was a baby."

Riley was "frantic" and "overwhelmed" when she gave birth to a daughter early on the morning of Oct. 3, 2005, defense attorney John McKenna said. After years of sexual abuse by her mother's former live-in boyfriend, she was emotionally shut down and did not know how to ask for help, McKenna told the judge.

"It's that deep well of insecurity, that feeling that no one would help her," that drove Riley to hide the body, McKenna said.

Defense attorneys asked Ballou-Watts to limit Riley's sentence to 10 years. Prosecutors asked that she be given a 45-year sentence. The judge sentenced her to two concurrent 20-year sentences, one for second-degree murder and one for child abuse leading to death. Riley pleaded guilty to both counts in October.

On the day her daughter was born, Riley locked herself in the bathroom, saying she was sick. Her roommate later told investigators that she heard a few faint cries and the bathtub faucet being turned on and off repeatedly.

After finding blood in the bathroom of the dorm room on Villa Julie's Owings Mills campus, the roommate contacted school security guards, who notified Baltimore County police.

Investigators found the baby's body in a storm drain in near Riley's father's home in Prince George's County.

The baby, who was healthy when she was born, weighed 7 1/4 pounds and was 21 inches long, died of head trauma, asphyxiation and exposure, according to an autopsy. Her body was found in a garbage bag that also contained razors, toilet paper and other bathroom trash.

Riley had put the baby into the garbage bag, which she hid in a blue duffel bag before driving to her father's home, McKee said. She put the garbage bag containing the body into a storm drain but kept the duffel bag, he said.

"The blue duffel bag is more important to her than her own baby," he said.

Riley later bleached bloody towels to hide evidence of the birth.

Riley did not know how to ask for help, defense attorneys said. Her relationship with her mother had been strained since her mother's live-in boyfriend raped her during her early teenage years, they said.

The boyfriend was convicted of child abuse in 2002, McKenna said, and served less than a year in prison.

The boyfriend is the father of Riley's preschool-age son, the defense attorney said. "She's a very good mother to [the boy]," McKenna said.

McKenna declined to identify the father of the baby who died but said Riley's mother's former boyfriend was not the father.

Riley's parents begged the judge to be lenient with their daughter's sentence.

"I feel like I failed her," said her mother, Teresa Scott, sobbing. "I ask you not to let Danielle continue to pay for my mistake.

Riley, wearing a red pullover, gray slacks and leg restraints over black, high-heeled boots, read from a letter she had written to the judge. She apologized to her family and Villa Julie, and acknowledged that there were many unanswered questions in her case, but she did not explain her actions.

"My daughter is not physically here, but she is forever in my heart," she said.

Ballou-Watts acknowledged Riley's troubled past but said it could not excuse her actions. She pointed to family members and friends who packed the courtroom as evidence that Riley had the support of many people.

"I can't ignore the fact that a life is gone," the judge said.

After the sentencing, a sheriff's deputy allowed Riley's relatives to approach her. One by one, they walked up to her with their arms outstretched. Many embraced her tightly, rocking from side to side.

Riley wiped tears from their faces and told them she would be all right.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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