Police say meth use was motive for Pleasant Grove mom to kill babies
DNA testing • Pleasant Grove woman’s dead newborns included five girls and two boys.
Published: July 9, 2014 09:44AM
Updated: July 21, 2014 02:30PM
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Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune The Pleasant Grove home Sunday, April 13, 2014, where 7 dead babies were discovered on April 13, 2014.

Investigators say a Pleasant Grove woman accused of killing six of her newborn children was a heavy methamphetamine user and that her drug addiction was a motive for her crimes.

Pleasant Grove police Capt. Michael Roberts said Megan Huntsman told authorities she was using meth during the period when she allegedly smothered or strangled the infants and also was drinking during part of that time. The cost of feeding her addiction factored into the killings, Roberts said, adding that Huntsman alluded to a choice she was facing.

“She had to make a decision between the drugs and the babies,” Roberts said Tuesday.

He also said DNA testing on seven dead babies found stuffed into cardboard boxes at Huntsman’s home in April confirmed that all of them — five girls and two boys — were fathered by her husband.

The long-awaited results were difficult to obtain due to the condition of the remains. Forensic experts resorted to “nuclear DNA” testing to determine both gender and paternity.

Nuclear DNA, found in the nucleus of most human cells, generally provides more genetic information — and from both parents — than the more commonly tested mitochondrial, or maternal DNA.

Prosecutors contend that six of the infants were choked or smothered shortly after birth by Huntsman, 39, during the period from Jan. 1, 1996, to Dec. 31, 2006. Huntsman allegedly told investigators that she had killed six of the babies, but she claimed the seventh was stillborn.

Huntsman, who was charged in Provo’s 4th District Court with six counts of first-degree felony murder, remained in the Utah County Jail on Tuesday in lieu of $6 million cash-only bail.

The long-kept, deadly secret began to unravel April 12, when Huntsman’s now-estranged husband, 41-year-old Darren West — who had spent eight years in prison for drug crimes before being released into a Salt Lake City halfway house — was at their Pleasant Grove home retrieving some of his belongings.

Inside the garage, West found the remains of a baby wrapped in plastic bags and a green towel and stuffed into a white box, sealed with electrical tape. Alerted to the grisly discovery, police later found six more infant corpses similarly stored inside other boxes.

Huntsman will not face the death penalty under the near-decade-old murder statute in effect at the time of the crimes. Instead, she faces a maximum penalty for each count of five years to life.

West and Huntsman have three living children together, all daughters, now ages 13 to 20.

Huntsman is next set to appear in court July 21 to determine if she will waive a preliminary hearing.

On May 16, Judge Darold McDade ordered that Huntsman be made available for a psychological evaluation, but no further details on whether that exam had yet been done, or if so what the results were, had been released as of Tuesday.

remims@sltrib.com

Twitter: @remims