Jury finds mom guilty

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 27, 2012

An Andalusia woman was convicted Friday of aggravated child abuse, not because she dropped off her newborn at a local hospital under Alabama’s “safe haven” law five years ago, but because that child was so cold she nearly died.

Susan Huggins was indicted in 2008 by a grand jury; however, the child, identified as “Baby Val” was born in 2007 at Huggins’ Andalusia home.

The seven-woman, five-man jury heard nearly two days of testimony from family members, doctors and police investigators, as well as audio interviews with Huggins about how she hid the pregnancy from her husband, gave birth and then left the child in a shed behind the couple’s home for 12 to 14 hours in freezing temperatures before taking the child to a hospital. They deliberated approximately 30 minutes before finding Huggins guilty.

District Attorney Walt Merrell said Huggins wasn’t indicted because she invoked the state’s “safe haven” law, which allows parents to give up custody of their baby within 72 hours of its birth to an emergency medical services provider at a medical facility. The parent does not have to give her name or any other information, as long as the child shows no signs of intentional abuse.

But wasn’t the case in this situation, Merrell said after describing how the baby was treated for hypothermia at the hospital.

“Did she maltreat that baby?” Merrell asked jurors. “That’s why we’re here. (A local pediatrician) testified she thought that baby was going to die. (Another doctor) said if someone had not intervened, that baby would have died. It was 40 degrees outside that day. The low was 27. Think about a cold winter morning…and how it took 65 minutes to get (the baby’s) body core temperature up.

“That baby was so cold, it was unconscious,” he said the pediatrician testified. “And when they intubated her, and put an IV in, she never moved. ’A rag doll,’ the doctor said. And remember when (the defense counsel) asked, ‘So whoever brought that baby in saved her life,’ and he said, ‘No. The hospital saved her life.”

The connection between Huggins and the child was made when Huggins’ then-husband arrived home from work to find her bleeding. He then took her the hospital for treatment, where medical personnel and law enforcement determined Huggins was the child’s mother.

Geneva attorney David Harrison, who represented Huggins, maintained that Huggins’ actions were the result of an abusive marriage.

“What is the motive to do what she did?” Harrison asked jurors. “It’s clear to me. She tried to keep that baby from her husband. We have our mind, body and soul, but her husband took all that from her. There is no evidence that she had any intent to do anything but protect this child.”

Circuit Judge Lex Short will sentence Huggins on Dec 19. She faces up to 20 years in prison.

Merrell said, “I am thankful that the jury did what they did. I’m glad they continued to protect that infant today.”

He also expressed his appreciation to the Andalusia Police Department, Alabama Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Human Resources for their roles in the investigation.