NEW YORK (AP) – A teenage girl suffocated her just-born baby boy before putting his body in a shopping bag, then going on a trip to a Victoria’s Secret store the next day, prosecutors said as she was charged with murder Thursday.
Tiona Rodriguez, now 18, pleaded not guilty, with her lawyer saying it was a stillbirth, not a killing.
The indictment came nearly two years after Rodriguez was arrested on a $45 shoplifting charge at the lingerie store, where a security guard found the body in a bag Rodriguez was carrying.
Prosecutors said their lengthy investigation revealed a girl who became a mother at 14 and was callously determined not to let anyone know she was having another baby.
“She knew she would be in big trouble if her family found out, so she made a plan – to kill this baby,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Rachel Ferrari said. “She had derailed her life once. She was not going to do it again.”
To carry out that plan, the then 17-year-old Rodriguez went to a friend’s house Oct. 16, 2013, delivered in a bathroom, tore the 8-pound boy’s umbilical cord with her hands and asphyxiated him, Ferrari said.
In a text message at some point, Rodriguez used a vulgarity to describe the baby and added she’d “dig a hole” and “put it somewhere” adding an “LOL” – online jargon for “laughing out loud” – and “then we go eat iHop,” the prosecutor said.
But defense lawyer Earl Ward said Rodriguez hadn’t realized she was pregnant, adding that her condition hadn’t been spotted during an annual primary-care checkup a month before the birth. While prosecutors said the baby was full-term, Ward said Rodriguez didn’t know how long she’d been pregnant because she didn’t even know she was pregnant.
Surprised when abdominal pains turned out to be labor, she held the baby in her hands, checked for a pulse and breathing, found none, rinsed him off and started to cry, Ward said. She wrapped the remains in a bag, took them home and slipped them in a dresser drawer because she couldn’t face telling her family, he said.
“She’s a confused young girl who had no idea what to do with the fetus after it was stillborn,” Ward said. Bringing the remains with her to Victoria’s Secret, he said, “shows you how confused she was.”
But prosecutors said Rodriguez had tried to hide pregnancies before.
After having her now 4-year-old son – a pregnancy unknown to her family until she went into labor – Rodriguez delivered again in 2012 in her bathtub, Ferrari said. That child didn’t survive. Ferrari said that the circumstances of the death are unclear, but that Rodriguez had texted her then-boyfriend about smashing or burning the body to disguise what it was. Ward said that was a miscarriage.
Prosecutors said the latest baby lived at least a few minutes after being born in 2013. Ward said air in the boy’s lungs could have been a byproduct of decomposing after death.
The shoplifting case was dismissed last year after time ran out to try it.
Other teenagers and women also have been charged with killing babies after secretly giving birth. In one notorious case, an 18-year-old New Jersey high school senior pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter after delivering a boy in a catering-hall restroom at her 1997 prom, throwing him in a trash can and returning to the dance.
Last week, a 15-year-old in Louisville, Kentucky, was charged with smothering her newborn daughter and hiding the body in her purse.