IOWA CITY — A Davenport woman, who left her newborn boy in a trash can at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics last year, pleaded guilty Friday in Johnson County District Court to lesser charges and faces up to 12 years in prison.
Ashley Hautzenrader, 24, originally charged with attempted murder, made Alford pleas to neglect or abandonment of a dependent person, a felony, and child endangerment, an aggravated misdemeanor.
An Alford plea is when a defendant doesn’t admit guilt but admits the prosecution has enough evidence to likely prove the charge.
Through a series of questions by 6th Judicial District Judge Marsha Bergan, Hautzenrader admitted she “knowingly created substantial risk” to her infant boy by attempting to flush him down a toilet and then leaving him in a trash bin in a restroom of the John Colloton Pavilion at the hospital after giving birth to him May 8, 2016.
She also admitted to “knowingly or recklessly” exposing her newborn to danger or hazard or by “deserting or abandoning” him. She also didn’t tell anyone about the infant, ask for assistance or release custody of the boy under Iowa’s Safe Haven law.
Bergan said she reviewed the minutes of testimony, including statements made by nurses who heard the newborn cry and found him with a heart rate in the trash bin that day.
Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said she will recommend prison terms at sentencing. Hautzenrader faces 10 years on the neglect charge and two years on the other charge. Hautzenrader is free to ask for a deferred sentence, Lyness added.
John Bruzek, Hautzenrader’s Iowa City lawyer, asked for a pre-sentencing investigation to be conducted before she made the plea, likely to see if she would be eligible for a deferred judgment. A pre-sentencing investigation contains background and other relevant information about the defendant and the crime, and also includes a sentencing recommendation from court services. The report is usually ordered by a judge after the plea.
Bergan asked that the pre-sentencing investigation be updated for sentencing. She tentatively set sentencing for Sept. 1.
A criminal complaint shows Hautzenradar told UI police she thought the baby was stillborn when she gave birth that day. She delivered the infant in a toilet about 9:24 p.m.
Hautzenrader later told police she didn’t know she was pregnant, and the baby wasn’t crying when she gave birth so she thought it was dead, the complaint states. She admitted to police that she attempted to flush the baby down the toilet but instead put the infant in a pillow case and another bag before placing the infant in the trash can, according to the complaint.
She then cleaned up the restroom and left. She didn’t tell anybody about the baby or try to get help for her child, the complaint shows. Hospital employees later found the infant alive in the trash can.
Hautzenrader was initially charged with child endangerment, but after police obtained a search warrant for her cellphone, four days after the birth, she also was charged with attempted murder.
An affidavit for a search warrant shows the cellphone contained text messages between Hautzenrader and her boyfriend about her being pregnant.
The Safe Haven law in Iowa would have allowed Hautzenrader to turn over the child to the hospital without facing criminal prosecution.
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