Police in Pleasant Grove, Utah discovered the bodies of six dead infants stuffed in a cardboard box this past Saturday when they executed a search warrant at the suspect’s former residence. Megan Huntsman (39) was arrested on suspicion of committing six counts of murder. Authorities believe Huntsman gave birth to the infants between 1996 and 2006 and then murdered them. Neighbors had noticed that she had gained and lost weight over the years but did not suspect that she had been pregnant. Utah has had a “Safe Haven” law on the books allowing biological parents to anonymously give up custody of their newborn child without facing any legal consequences for several years. One purpose of the law was to prevent mothers from abandoning infants in dangerous locations- let alone murdering them. It is not clear what degree of murder prosecutors will allege.
COMMENT: Utah has a death penalty statute, but there hasn’t been an execution in the past 13 years. From 2008 to 2013 aggravated murder charges were filed against 54 people (thereby making them eligible for the death penalty); prosecutors filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty in 7 of those cases. Prosecutors consider the opinion of family members of the victim and their need for closure when making death penalty decisions; death penalty cases can take many years before becoming final. Opponents of the death penalty often point out that people can be sentenced to death only later to be determined to be innocent through the use of DNA or other evidence. Gary Gilmore was perhaps the most infamous of those executed in Utah when he faced the firing squad on January 17th, 1977. The phrase “Just Do It” is attributed to Gilmore’s last words. The method of execution in Utah is now lethal injection.
UPDATE: April 20, 2015: Megan Huntsman received a sentence of “up to life in prison” that is likely to keep her behind bars for the rest of her life although a parole board will make the final decision on how long she serves. She admitted to killing 6 of her newborn babies and then hiding the bodies in the garage. She said she choked and strangled the babies with her hands minutes after they were born. A 7th baby was determined to be stillborn. In a letter she wrote, read by her lawyer, she said: “I know I didn’t feel strong enough to be a mother to those tiny babies, and in some small way I wanted to help them avoid the terrible life I would have given them.” A letter from her other children read, “This is not the mom I know. I remember the mom I know, the one that made dinner for us every night, cleaned our house and loved not only her kids but kids in general”. It remains unclear how she managed to conceal the pregnancies from other family members and neighbors.
OUR FREE OPINION
The most common reason offered by parents who killed one or more of their children is that they believe they are murdering the child for its own good. Some call these acts a question of “unwanted child filicide.” The state had laws in place that allowed women to give up their rights to “unwanted” children without consequences. However, this case obviously was driven by extended methamphetamine use coupled with severe mental health challenges. We hope that the facility Huntsman is at provides her with substantial psychological treatment. We hope that she sufficiently recovers and is eventually released.