Authorities on Thursday took the rare step of filing a capital murder charge against a 14-year-old girl, whose newborn son died after being submerged in a Baytown school toilet and having toilet paper stuffed down his throat.
The Harris County District Attorney's Office has not decided whether the girl should be certified to stand trial as an adult. If so, she could receive a life sentence without the possibility of release if convicted.
"This has been a lengthy and thorough investigation," Baytown police Capt. Roger Clifford said Thursday.
"We've accomplished our mission. But this is not a joyous occasion," Clifford said.
He described the ordeal as "disturbing" and a "terrible time in the life of a young mother and her family," as well as for the baby.
If convicted as a juvenile, the girl could receive as little as probation, or as much as 40 years confinement by the Texas Youth Commission until age 19 and then be transferred to a state prison to serve the remainder of her sentence.
A capital murder conviction can carry a possible death sentence, but the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision in 2005, banned executions of juvenile criminals.
The teen has been under investigation since the baby died April 2 in a restroom at Cedar Bayou Junior School.
The girl was taken into custody Thursday after the charges were filed and is now being held in a Harris County juvenile detention facility.
The Harris County Medical Examiner's Office reported the baby had his air passages blocked with water and toilet paper and had suffered blunt trauma to his head and neck.
The eighth-grader had not told anyone that she was pregnant and did all she could, Clifford said, such as wearing baggy clothing, "to keep quiet and secret it away from all she knew."
The girl's side of the story
The teen's attorney, Gerald Yoakum, said his client had sex only once and never knew she was pregnant.
She told investigators that she was seated on the toilet and using toilet paper to stop herself from bleeding and never saw her baby splash into the bowl, Yoakum said.
In a written statement released Thursday, Yoakum said: "Please remember that this is a 14-year-old child who has experienced a tragic event."
At the most, the teen thought she was having a miscarriage and had not wanted her parents to know about it, Yoakum said.
He said he will work with the District Attorney's Office and the juvenile court system to make sure "only the facts, not opinions and speculations, will control this case."
Because juvenile cases are confidential, officials said they could not elaborate on the evidence that led to the charge.
But Clifford noted the medical examiner had ruled the death a "homicide" caused by another person and not an accident. A death of a child under 6 is a capital murder offense.
"I can say there is enough evidence to believe the death was intentional and knowingly done," he said.
Yoakum said the girl saw only "blood and goo" after the baby and the umbilical cord and placenta fell into the toilet.
The girl saw her son for the first time, Yoakum said, when she and her family held a private funeral for him in June. She still is mourning the death of her son, whom she named "Johnny," he said.
Clifford said the girl had carried the full-term infant for about 35 or 36 weeks. The newborn weighed 5 pounds, 6 ounces and was 18 inches long when he was born, Clifford said.
Yoakum had earlier estimated the baby as being a pound heavier and 2 inches shorter.
Since the death, Baytown's Goose Creek school district has formed a task force that includes hospital and crisis pregnancy workers to provide more information to students.
"We want them to know that there are other ways to handle something like this. The main thing is to tell an adult," said Kathy Clausen, the district's spokeswoman.
At least 15 other students have sought counseling since the baby's death.
"Some wrote her letters ... after she was taken to an area hospital on a stretcher," said Clausen.
The teen was taught at home after the baby died and did not return to class.
Before deciding to certify the teen as an adult, a team of prosecutors will review the defendant's criminal history along with the severity and nature of the crime, said Donna Hawkins, spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office.
"Usually this decision is made by the collaboration of several division chiefs in the office," Hawkins said.
In the nurse's office
On the day the baby died, the girl went to the nurse's office shortly after arriving at school.
The nurse, thinking the girl was suffering from menstrual cramps, had her lie down with a heating pad for 2 1/2 hours before sending her back to class, Yoakum said.
Instead, he said, the girl went to the restroom, where another teenager heard her moaning, saw a lot of blood and went to the office for help. When Baytown emergency workers arrived at the school, they thought a student was possibly having a miscarriage, Clifford said.
But instead, Clifford said, "they were shocked to discover a deceased baby boy. His lifeless body was still lying in the toilet bowl, apparently where the student had given birth."
Investigators in the past have said the baby cried at least once before his mother tried to flush him down the toilet. But Yoakum said a psychologist, who has interviewed the girl, does not believe the teen could intentionally harm a child.