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Woman enters Alford plea in death of son

June 24, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

A Hagerstown woman charged in the death of her newborn son in September 2002 entered an Alford plea Monday in Washington County Circuit Court to one count of child abuse resulting in death.

Patricia Ann Stotelmyer, 26, of 28 Wakefield Road, faced five criminal charges in the death of her son, to whom she gave birth in her apartment after seven months of pregnancy.

Of the charges she initially faced, the most serious were second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death. A conviction on each charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.

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In exchange for her Alford plea, the Washington County State's Attorney's Office dropped the remaining charges and agreed to ask for no more than 10 years in prison for Stotelmyer.

Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt, but agrees the state has enough evidence to gain a conviction.

During the hearing, Stotelmyer answered direct questions with "yes" and "no" answers, speaking only briefly to explain to Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III her educational background - 10 years of school and completion of her GED.

No sentencing date was set, but a hearing is not expected for several weeks because a pre-sentence investigation must be completed, Washington County Public Defender Carl Creeden said after the hearing.

According to charging documents, Stotelmyer told police she gave birth in her apartment bathtub on Sept. 21, 2002. After cutting the umbilical cord with a pair of scissors, she left the baby in the tub with the water running.

Then, police said in the documents, Stotelmyer wrapped her baby in a wet towel and placed it in a plastic bag, which had been placed in a larger plastic garbage bag with trash.

Stotelmyer's former boyfriend took her to the hospital Sept. 22, when he found her in her apartment with blood-stained clothes, the documents say. An autopsy performed the next day by the Medical Examiner's Office in Baltimore indicated the baby died of asphyxia.

Assistant State's Attorney Gina Cirincion said during the hearing that Stotelmyer first told investigators she thought the baby was alive when she heard "gasping sounds," but she later retracted that statement.

Stotelmyer also told investigators she believed the baby had drowned in the tub, but the autopsy ruled out that possibility, Cirincion said.

Family members present at the hearing Monday said Stotelmyer comes from a troubled family. Stotelmyer's father died in the late 1980s, and her mother died in a mobile home fire in the McConnellsburg, Pa., area in 1992, said her younger sister, Virginia Stotelmyer.

Patricia, Virginia and their older sister were in the fire, but escaped, Virginia Stotelmyer said.

"We were lucky to get out," Virginia Stotelmyer said. She said there were many unanswered questions from the fire.

After their mother died, the girls were taken in by their stepmother, Sarah Brown.

Brown said after the hearing Monday that Patricia Stotelmyer did well, even though she faced family problems. She said she was well-liked at her job with the Census Bureau.

"Tricia is a good kid. She was just faced with circumstances she couldn't handle," Brown said. "She doesn't have an evil bone in her body."

Patricia Stotelmyer also has two other children who miss their mother, said Stotelmyer's stepsister, April Hann, who said she had known Stotelmyer since the late 1970s.

"They want their mom back," Hann said. "If those kids cannot judge her ... then that should tell the state something."

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