Insanity plea possible in fetal-abduction case

Associated Press

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A Milwaukee woman accused of killing a pregnant woman and cutting out her full-term fetus in the hopes of raising the child as her own might plead insanity, one of her lawyers said.

Annette Morales-Rodriguez, who is charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide, sat stoically in a wheelchair during a pretrial hearing on Wednesday while an interpreter relayed in Spanish what was happening. A court commissioner bound her over for trial and maintained her $1 million bail. She's scheduled to be arraigned Nov. 2.

After the hearing, one of her three lawyers, Robert D'Arruda, said the defense would be scrutinizing the investigation into the Oct. 6 slaying of 23-year-old Maritza Ramirez-Cruz and her fetus, and that they would consider using an insanity defense.

"I'm not saying we are going to do it, but that's something we're going to discuss and may do at the next court date," he said.

Morales-Rodriguez, 33, would receive mandatory life sentences if convicted of the homicide charges, although a judge could grant her the possibility of parole. Wisconsin does not have the death penalty.

D'Arruda said his client has been "very depressed" and has been eating poorly in jail.

Investigators contend that Morales-Rodriguez was desperate to give her boyfriend a son but was unable to conceive. She's accused of luring Ramirez-Cruz into her car, taking her home, beating her with a baseball bat and cutting her full-term fetus, a boy, from her womb. Both mother and fetus died.

Forensic pathologist Wieslawa Tlomak testified Wednesday that neither autopsy has been completed, but that preliminary indications suggest that Ramirez-Cruz died of a combination of blood loss and strangulation, and "it appears the child died because the mother died."

Morales-Rodriguez's boyfriend, 30-year-old Jose R. Chaidez-Montenegro, told the medical examiner that she told him about six months ago that she was pregnant but that she was evasive about the gender and approximate due date.

According to investigators, Morales-Rodriguez grew increasingly desperate as the supposed due date approached, and she began plotting to "find a pregnant woman and take the baby and make it hers." She chose Ramirez-Cruz after spotting her outside a nonprofit organization that provides Hispanics with health care. She picked the younger woman up on Oct. 6 and took her home, where she bludgeoned her, choked her until she passed out and cut the baby from her womb with a small blade.

Police say she told them the baby wasn't breathing so she called 911 and reported that she'd given birth to a stillborn child. She was taken to a hospital, where she refused treatment and left.

An autopsy revealed that the baby wasn't born naturally. The mother's uterus was attached to the baby and had been cut out by force, the complaint said, and both ovaries and Fallopian tubes were still attached to the uterus and placenta.

Officers returned to Morales-Rodriguez's house that day and took her back to the hospital. An examination verified she hadn't given birth and police then questioned her.

Milwaukee police Det. Rodolfo Gomez testified that when he visited her in the hospital, her first words to him were that "she was sorry for the girl" and she wanted to know how much time she'd be getting. She later told him a girl was dead in her basement and that the baby wasn't hers, he said.

After that she was taken into custody, read her rights and interrogated further.

D'Arruda, her defense attorney, said he plans to question why police conducted the hospital interrogation without having read his client her rights.

"We're going to file a motion challenging her statement, saying police basically jumped the gun," he said. "They should have read her her rights before they talked to her in the hospital."

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Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.

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