BERLIN – With a grand jury this week reportedly indicting an Ocean City woman on first-degree murder charges in the death of her infant son, a picture of other women in similar situations continues to emerge with a wealth of case history available to prosecutors and defense attorneys, but the extreme nature of the Christy Freeman case apparently does not fit into any prior set of circumstances and could be a first of its kind.
Freeman, 37, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of her newborn son, a twin, in 2004. The charges were filed after investigators discovered her recently delivered stillborn fetus wrapped in a towel under the bathroom sink in her Ocean City home on July 27. The investigation led to the discovery of three more fetuses in and around her home including two, dating back to 2004, wrapped in plastic bags at the bottom of a trunk in her bedroom and a fourth similarly wrapped found in a recreational vehicle parked in the driveway of the home.
Freeman has since admitted one of the fetuses found in the trunk was the first of two twins that she allowed to die in the toilet. The admission led state prosecutors to drop the charges against her for the death of her most recent child in late July and apply first-degree murder charges against her for the death of her full-term or near full-term infant in 2004.
Although State’s Attorney’s Office Public Information Officer Mallory Knapp adamantly denied it yesterday, reliable sources indicate Freeman was indicted by the grand jury sometime this week. Insiders confirm Freeman’s four children were subpoenaed to appear on Tuesday in Snow Hill for questioning before the grand jury, which over two days heard the case. Knapp would not confirm or deny a grand jury heard the case this week.
Meanwhile, members of the legal community have privately questioned the strength of the case against Freeman, who is reportedly being represented by public defender Burton Anderson and attorney Scott Collins, who had been a long-time member of State’s Attorney Joel Todd’s prosecutorial team. Questions are surrounding the legality of the confession and whether Freeman was given ample opportunity to speak to attorney Frank Benvenuto before confessing.
The murder of one’s own child, called filicide, and the murder of one’s own newborn child within 24 hours of its birth, called neonaticide, is certainly not a new phenomenon with new cases reported almost daily. However, as prosecutors and defense attorneys begin preparing for the Freeman case, they are likely wrestling with how to fit the extreme nature of the case into any case that has come before it.
Dr. Neil S. Kaye is a noted forensic psychiatrist highly regarded as an expert in filicide and neonaticide. His testimony has had a major impact on several high profile cases and he has delivered hundreds of lectures and published dozens of articles on the subject. While Kaye has not been contacted by either side in the pending Freeman case, he has been keeping a close eye on it and said this week it doesn’t fit neatly into any of cases he has worked on directly or researched over the years.
“It doesn’t fit any profile,” he said this week. “There is more than one victim in one episode, and it appears there was more than one episode over a period of time. This is the first time in history that this has ever been reported. I can think of no other case like this in the 200 years of research available.”
Neonaticide is the killing of a newborn within the first 24 hours of life. Although relatively uncommon, numerous cases of maternal neonaticide have been reported.
Statistically, the U.S. ranks first in child homicide under the age of four years. Forty-five percent of all child murders occur in the first 24 hours of life and can be classified as neonaticide. Neonaticidal mothers are generally between 16 and 38 years old with almost 90 percent age 25 or younger.
Less than 20 percent are married and less than 30 percent are seen as psychotic or depressed. The majority of neonaticidal mothers are unwed, poor and have denied and/or concealed their pregnancy since conception. They frequently give birth alone and dispose of the baby as an abortion that occurs too late.
While Freeman certainly fits the profile of a neonaticidal mother in nearly every characteristic, the complexities of her case make it extremely unique, according to Kaye.
“There are various types, but most cases involve younger moms with ‘unwanted’ pregnancies who are isolated or alone,” he said. “In this case, the mother is older than usual and she is essentially married. The fact there appears to be multiple episodes also makes in extremely rare.”
The typical case of neonaticide reported most frequently involve young, unwed mothers who successfully conceal an unwanted pregnancy from their significant others or their parents out of fear.
“We get reports of about one case of neonaticide a day,” he said. “I got one today that fit the classic scenario where a college kid in Pennsylvania who didn’t want to be pregnant, concealed it from everyone and then had the baby before disposing of it. Those are the types of scenarios we see day in and day out.”
While it appears Freeman did successfully conceal her pregnancy – her long-time boyfriend allegedly had no idea, nor did her friends and acquaintances in the community – she does not fit the typical profile for a neonaticidal mother. In a post-arrest interview with an OCPD detective, Freeman was asked if she provided pre-natal care, 911 or EMS, she said she did not. When asked if that was because the baby meant nothing to her, she replied yes.
Freeman’s apparent indifference should not necessarily be interpreted as malicious behavior, according to Kaye, who said, in many cases, neonaticidal mothers are no more attached to their infants than they are anything else that passes through their bodies.
“Indifference is akin to dissociation,” he said. “They simply don’t want to be pregnant. They have no attachment to the pregnancy, it’s just like some foreign object passing through their bodies. Just like you don’t have any warm and fuzzy feelings about yesterday’s chicken dinner that passed through you and is now on its way to the sewer system.”
Kaye said the prosecution in the Freeman case will likely emphasize her apparent indifference to the child she allegedly let die in the toilet moments after delivering it.
Kaye said the challenge in cases such as the Freeman case is coming to terms with the purpose of prosecution, which typically falls into several broad objectives. For example, one of the primary goals of prosecution is to protect the public, which is not applicable in the Freeman case, according to Kaye.
“The public at-large is not at risk from this person,” he said. “She is no menace to the public.”
Another basic reason for prosecution is to prevent a defendant from repeating his or her deviant behavior, but Kaye said that reason may not be applicable in the Freeman case.
“Is she likely to do it again? Well, yes and no,” he said. “It does appear that she has multiple incidents of neonaticide, but she also has four grown children.”
Yet another reason for prosecution is to send a message to others who find themselves in a similar situation, but Kay said harsh sentences and other punishments are not viewed as a deterrent, largely because a person in the situation would not typically have the clarity of mind to consider them.
“If the purpose is to send a message, that simply doesn’t work,” he said. “I’m sure there has never been a girl in this situation who stopped and said ‘I remember reading about this case or that case,’ and altered their behavior because of it.”
Kaye said the most likely reason for prosecution in the Freeman case will come down to vengeance. The images of fetuses in trunks, cadaver dogs and the FBI digging in the vacant lot are etched into the memory of most people familiar with the case and they will want, or even demand, some sort of harsh punishment.
“We’ve become a vengeful society and there is a call for justice in cases like these,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is, the vast number of these cases never see the light of day. They are handled with counseling, therapy, perhaps community service and probation. In my experience, most of these cases never go to trial and some sort of agreement is reached. Everybody gets worked up in the beginning, but there is typically some shift in the disposition of the case and it goes straight to a plea bargain.”