A Bronx Supreme Court judge announced Wednesday that an 18-year-old girl who allegedly threw her newborn son to his death out of her fifth-floor South Bronx apartment window in October, when she was 17, will be prosecuted as an adult instead of moving to family court.
In the youth part of the Bronx Supreme Court criminal term located at 265 E. 161 St. on Tuesday, the young woman awaited the fate of her case beside her two male defense lawyers, looking through her black eyeglass frames, fixated forward toward the judge. With just a few credits to go before graduating high school this summer, she tapped the side of her white Nike sneaker on the floor below her cuffed jeans.
Danielle Pascale, the deputy bureau chief of child abuse and sex crimes for the Bronx District Attorney’s (DA) office, sought — and eventually succeeded — to convince Judge Naita Semaj that the young woman caused significant physical injury to meet the standard of being prosecuted as an adult, claiming the baby died from child abuse.
The criminal complaint states that the teen told the detective on the case on Oct. 25 that she gave birth to a baby boy in her apartment bedroom the night before. She allegedly said that the baby was breathing, making noises and not crying too loud, but a couple of hours later, after she left the baby to go eat, he wasn’t making any noises. This allegedly sent the young mother into a panic that led her to put her son in a pillow case that she threw out her East 158th Street window.
Mehdi Essmidi of Koch & Essmidi Law, the defendant’s principal lawyer, argued in a retention hearing on Tuesday that his client was suffering postpartum stress at the time of the incident, without her parents present. He argued the case should move to family court because at the time of the incident, she not only didn’t have the mental capacity of an adult, but didn’t have a “stable mental state” of a regular 17-year-old. Rather, his client was “a minor under severe and emotional distress.”
But Semaj declared at an online hearing Wednesday that the DA’s office met its burden of proof to retain the case in the youth part of the Supreme Court criminal term, meaning the 18-year-old is being prosecuted as an adult. The Bronx Times has reached out to Semaj’s office for elaboration on her decision and is awaiting a response.
Semaj emphasized that the defendant and her family should receive therapy services, noting that the 18-year-old’s mother lost a grandchild, and the situation impacts the whole family.
“There should be some addressing the dynamics of that household,” the judge said. “Because you know things like this don’t necessarily happen in a vacuum.”
Essmidi said his client has been receiving counseling since first going to Lincoln Medical Center the day after the Oct. 24 incident — where she initially spoke to police.
“Our client and her family are heartbroken about the tragic circumstances of this case,” Essmidi told the Bronx Times. “We are working with the Court and District Attorney’s office to resolve this matter in a way that does not cause more pain or suffering to the family and community. As we continue to investigate this case and the allegations against our client, we look forward to resolving this matter in an appropriate and just manner.”
Bronx Assistant District Attorney Rachael Baughman agreed on Wednesday that therapy services are appropriate for the defendant and said that will have a bearing on how the case is handled moving forward. The DA’s office declined to elaborate on Baughman’s statement.
But the decision to keep the case in Semaj’s courtroom instead of sending it to family court wasn’t obvious at the hearing on Tuesday, which left the judge unconvinced whether the medical examiner definitively knew the newborn baby boy was killed by the five-story fall, prompting her to delay the ruling to Wednesday.
Her hesitancy came from a document signed by medical examiner Dr. Kristin Hord that described the newborn’s “immediate cause of death” as blunt force trauma from the fall. The judge said parts of the report were either crossed out or left blank.
According to the criminal complaint, trauma to the baby’s torso caused a lacerated liver, leading to deadly internal bleeding, and Pascale argued that since damage from the fall was the only cause of death listed from a full autopsy report, it should be considered the cause of death.
But to Semaj, it wasn’t so simple.
The statement about the baby no longer making noises prior to being put in a pillow case stood out to the judge, and she wasn’t convinced from the DA’s presentation that the baby was dead or alive at that point.
“Babies sleep,” Pascale argued.
“Babies also sometimes die,” the judge shot back, saying the newborn could have suddenly died on the bed.
As Pascale referred to the fall as the “cause of death,” Semaj urged her to use the wording from the examiner’s document: “immediate cause of death.”
“Words matter,” Semaj said. “We all learned that in law school.”
The DA’s office could have brought the medical examiner to testify, according to the judge.
Semaj and Pascale got into multiple back-and-forths at the hearing Tuesday, and the defendant, whose hair was pulled back, slick on top in a neat ponytail that let her hair loose in the back, seemed to shake her leg quicker as the prosecutor and judge’s interaction became more intense.
Only at one, brief moment, she looked back at two family members watching from the gallery.
Reach Aliya Schneider at email@example.com or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes