In a barely audible voice, Kenisha Pruitt admitted in court Friday that she put her newborn baby under water, that she tied a shoestring around his little neck, that she killed him.
“The reason that you submerged the child was to terminate the child’s life?” her attorney, James Anderson, asked his client.
“Yes,” she said.
Nearly a year after the newborn was found in a freezer in the East Toledo home where Pruitt and the baby’s father once lived, Pruitt, 21, of 2631 Scottwood Ave., pleaded guilty in Lucas County Common Pleas Court to aggravated murder.
In exchange for her plea, prosecutors agreed to dismiss charges of abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence.
An outraged Judge Linda Jennings sentenced Pruitt to life in prison, telling her she would be eligible for parole in 20 years though there would be no guarantee she would be released then.
“Miss Pruitt, how could you do this?” Judge Jennings demanded. “How could you carry this baby inside of you for nine months and feel it move everyday and then kill it? How could you do this?”
“You committed the most heinous act imaginable, and if it could be any worse it was made worse by the fact that you planned it.”
When asked to tell the court what she had done, Pruitt’s attorney asked her a series of questions. Pruitt replied “Yes,” to each one.
She admitted she gave birth early on Jan. 30, 2012, in the bathroom of the Paine Avenue house where she lived with the baby’s father, Antonio Cervantes. She admitted she gave the baby to Mr. Cervantes while she got into the bathtub to clean herself.
She confirmed he handed the baby back to her and she held the baby under the water. She admitted that she handed the infant back to Mr. Cervantes, who gave her a shoelace to tie around the baby’s neck while the baby was still breathing.
Pruitt again answered “Yes,” when Mr. McDonald asked her if Mr. Cervantes took the baby out of the room and told her he wrapped the child in plastic.
The official cause of death issued by the Lucas County Coroner’s Office was submersion in water and ligature strangulation.
Shortly after Pruitt’s sentencing, Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates used the opportunity to remind the public of the Ohio Safe Haven Law, which allows the parent of a newborn 30 days or younger to leave the baby at a police station, fire station, or hospital, with no questions asked.
Ms. Bates said she didn’t know if the parents in the recent case were aware of the law, or would have taken advantage of it if they had.
“There is absolutely no reason in our state why any infant should end up in a freezer,” Ms. Bates said.
She said the 30-day age limit is not interpreted strictly and said that there would be no attempt to track down the parents or guardians if the baby has not been injured.
The law encourages parents to call a phone number associated with the law to ask questions and, if they give up the baby, to report any medical information about the baby that would be useful.
Under the law, children left in a “safe haven” are turned over to the Lucas County Children Services Board and then offered for foster care and adoption.
The phone number is 419-265-2229 (BABY).
Given the opportunity to speak on her behalf in court, Pruitt said she was sorry for what she had done.
“I want to apologize to my family and to the baby’s father’s family,” Pruitt said.
Mr. Cervantes, who was charged with involuntary manslaughter, tampering with evidence, child endangering, and abuse of a corpse, has a pretrial hearing in his case scheduled for March 12.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: email@example.com or 419-213-2134.