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Murder charges for Utah mom accused of killing infants

Published April 28, 2014 1:36 pm

Pleasant Grove woman cannot face death penalty because of laws at the time of the alleged crimes.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Provo • Megan Huntsman was charged Monday morning with six counts of murder for allegedly killing six of her own newborn babies over the course of 10 years, but, if convicted, she won't face the death penalty.

The babies were found wrapped in plastic bags and tucked into cardboard boxes inside Huntsman's Pleasant Grove garage on April 12, first by her estranged husband and then by police.

Huntsman, 39, subsequently admitted to suffocating or strangling six infants immediately after giving birth between 1996 and 2006, according to an arrest affidavit. A seventh child is believed to have been stillborn. Huntsman was charged Monday with six counts of first-degree felony murder in advance of her initial appearance in Provo's 4th District Court.

The timing of the alleged crimes precludes prosecutors from seeking the death penalty, Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman said Monday after Huntsman's hearing. The Pleasant Grove woman must be charged under the murder statute as it was written at the time of the alleged crimes — meaning she cannot be charged with a capital offense and will not be eligible for the death penalty. Huntsman also faces a five-years-to-life sentence if convicted on each count, as opposed to the current 25-years-to-life penalty.

In court Monday, the woman said nothing and her attorney waived the formal reading of the charges. She will be back in court again May 19, when her attorneys will state whether she wants a preliminary hearing.

Public defender Doug Thompson told the judge that his office has not yet received or reviewed evidence in the case, which is why it asked to have her next court date three weeks away.

The woman is being held at the Utah County jail in lieu of $6 million bail.

Though the autopsies are complete on the infants' bodies, authorities are remaining tight-lipped about what the examinations revealed, or whether cause of death or the babies' genders could be determined.

Buhman said investigators believe they know Huntsman's motive for the alleged slayings, but he would not elaborate on what that motive might be.

Police have taken DNA samples from Huntsman and her now-estranged husband, 41-year-old Darren Brad West, to determine whether they are the parents of the infants, as officers suspect.

West is still not considered a suspect or person of interest in the children's death, Buhman said Monday morning. In his initial statement to the police, West claimed he did not know about any of the pregnancies, according to authorities.

In 2006, West went to prison on drug convictions and is currently living at a Salt Lake County halfway house.

Pleasant Grove Police Capt. Michael Roberts has said investigators have determined that Huntsman did not go to a hospital to have the seven babies in question, all of which appeared to be full term.

The captain could not comment as to how Huntsman, described in jail records as 5-foot-4 and 105 pounds, could have concealed so many pregnancies. But Roberts did note that no one knew the woman was pregnant with her two eldest daughters — who are now 20 and 18 — until she gave birth to them at a hospital. Huntsman also has a 14-year-old daughter.

One of Huntsman's longtime Pleasant Grove neighbors has said she had noticed Huntsman go through weight fluctuations through the years but never thought she was pregnant.

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller