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Second Beecroft trial begins
Sides debate whether or not newborn was alive at time of stabbing
“Lies, deceit, deception and ultimately, death, is what this trial is about.”
These strong words spoken by the prosecution marked the beginning of the second murder trial for Nicole Beecroft of Oakdale on July 15.
Beecroft is charged with first-degree premeditated murder after her newborn baby girl was discovered, stabbed more than 100 times, in a trash can in April 2007. Beecroft, now 24, was 17 at the time and a senior at Tartan High School. She worked part time after school at the Sun Ray Cub Foods and had never been arrested before the infant’s death.
During her initial trial in 2008, Beecroft’s public defense team argued that the baby was stillborn, and thus did not die as a result of the stab wounds. In all conversations with investigators, Beecroft has maintained that the child was dead when she gave birth, alone, in the basement of her mother’s home on Hinton Trail North in Oakdale. She said she wrapped the body in a blanket and put it in the garbage can because she did not know what to do with it. Ultimately, the first trial court judge, Mary Hannon, did not believe the child was dead before the stabbing.
Beecroft, who was tried as an adult, was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
However, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the murder conviction in May 2012 due to questions about whether medical examiners were pressured not to testify as witnesses for the defense. Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom was publicly disciplined after he sent strongly worded emails to a county medical examiner and her boss, requesting that staff from her office not testify for the defense. Fearing she would be fired, the medical examiner who had been working for Beecroft’s defense team immediately discontinued her involvement with the case.
Additionally, last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of murder go against the constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
Still set on serving justice, the Washington County attorney’s office decided to file murder charges against Beecroft once again last May.
Rejected plea deal
At a July 12 pre-trial hearing, Beecroft turned down a plea deal, which would have lessened the charge to second-degree intentional murder and allowed her to bargain for probation or 14 to more than 30 years in jail with credit for the six years she’s already served.
At the hearing, she also waived her right to be tried by a jury, as she did in her previous trial. District Court Judge John Hoffman asked Beecroft several questions to ascertain whether or not Beecroft understood what she was agreeing to, and if the death of her mother last year had affected her ability to make those decisions.
Beecroft had hidden her pregnancy from her mother, who was suffering from breast cancer and was a single parent. Beecroft told investigators in the past that she feared her mother would have become so enraged that she would have killed her if she found out she was pregnant.
In court last week, Beecroft told Hoffman that she was prepared to continue with the second trial as planned and without a jury.
Prosecution aims to prove child was alive
During the opening statements July 15, state prosecutors asked Hoffman to especially consider one question: “Why would someone stab an already-dead baby?”
Several family members sat behind Beecroft, including her grandmother, who initially called police to tell them about what happened to the newborn. Beecroft wiped away tears as the prosecution detailed the stabbing and called her motives into question.
Prosecutors cited testimonies from several forensic pathologists, including those who specialize in infant autopsies and child abuse, who say that the child was alive at the time of the stabbing. They allege that Beecroft did not want to be pregnant, and had attempted to force a miscarriage by drinking alcohol and hitting her own stomach.
“She did not care about the child she was carrying,” prosecutors said. “She knew she was going to get rid of it.”
Furthermore, the prosecution stated that Beecroft never showed any emotion about the fact that her child had died, and lied to investigators about when the child was born.
“Nicole Beecroft’s story just wasn’t holding up,” they added.
Possible forensic pathology inconsistencies
The defense team sought to convince Hoffman that the prosecution could not “prove beyond reasonable doubt” that the child was alive at the time of the stabbing.
“We’re not here to speculate about her reasons for stabbing the baby,” Beecroft’s lead attorney Christine Funk said. “The question we should be asking is ‘Was the infant alive when it was stabbed?’”
The defense brought forth statements of evidence from several forensic pathologists who said that the child did not have air in its lungs and there was no evidence of blood spatter, which could mean that there was no blood pulsing through the body when it was stabbed.
However, they said, forensic pathologists and medical examiners “routinely disagree” on evidence and what it might mean.
“Especially for those of us in the legal field, we search for one clear answer. But in forensic pathology, having inconsistent answers is normal,” Funk said.
Beecroft’s trial is expected to continue through Aug. 8. The court will view about 50 pieces of evidence and will hear testimony from several witnesses, including police officers, medical examiners and fellow inmates of Beecroft’s from the state women’s prison in Shakopee.
Johanna Holub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-748-7814.