Mother pleads guilty to manslaughter in baby’s '02 death

A 30-year-old Baton Rouge woman avoided a possible life prison term by pleading guilty Monday to manslaughter and cruelty charges in the death of her infant daughter, whose body was found in the back of a garbage truck in 2002.

JoAnn King, who was arrested in 2012 after DNA evidence linked her to the child, is expected to be sentenced March 10 to 12 years in prison under the terms of a plea agreement. She remains free on bond.

The child is buried at Greenoaks Memorial Park as Christine Noel Love, the name given by a private group called Threads of Love, which provided a funeral in 2002 at Babyland, an array of infant graves at the cemetery.

King’s former boyfriend, Matthew Crane, has said he would like to give his daughter the name Cecilia Noelle Crane. He also wants to make a victim impact statement at King’s sentencing.

“I’d prefer not to make any comment until Miss King has been sentenced next month,” said Crane, who was in state District Judge Trudy White’s courtroom when King pleaded guilty, after the hearing.

Crane, 30, did not learn King had given birth in 2002 until she was arrested a decade later. DNA testing confirmed late last year that Crane is the child’s biological father.

“Hopefully today’s plea will begin to allow this child’s father and family to deal with this highly emotional nightmare,” East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said.

King was charged with second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison upon conviction.

The plea agreement calls for King to receive a 12-year prison term on the manslaughter charge without benefit of probation, parole or suspension of sentence. After she is released from prison, she will be on supervised home incarceration for five years. If she violates that portion of her sentence, she could be ordered to spend another 10 years behind bars.

King’s court-appointed attorney, Fred Kroenke, said King was all alone when she delivered the extremely premature child in a car on a cold and rainy night in December 2002. He said King is bipolar.

“She does not think she deserves 12 years, but she definitely knows what she did was wrong and is incredibly remorseful,” Kroenke added.

King admitted on Jan. 26, 2012, to killing the baby in December 2002 by throwing the infant into a trash bin. BFI garbage truck workers discovered the child at 8:40 a.m. Dec. 6, 2002, dangling from a ripped garbage bag in the back of the truck in the 2200 block of Iberia Street.

The workers found the infant just before she would have passed through the garbage compactor.

The baby, who probably had been born the day before, died from a blow to the head, probably once she was in the truck, the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office has said.

Louisiana’s safe haven law provides a safe and legal last resort to prevent abandonment of a baby.

The Legislature passed a law in 2000 allowing parents to leave newborns at hospitals and police and fire stations up to 30 days after birth without being prosecuted.

Last year, state lawmakers raised the number of days to 60.

Additional information about the safe haven law is available by calling (800) 244-5373.