Even when her father found her crawling on her bedroom floor and bleeding almost to death, Courtney Kathleen Addington maintained it was her irritable bowel syndrome – and not the fact she had just given birth – that was the cause of her nearly fatal distress.
Investigators a few hours later found the lifeless 7-pound, 8-ounce body of Hayden Elaine Addington Minton stuffed in a plastic garbage bag underneath her birth mother’s bed. They were deeply suspicious of Addington’s story that she didn’t know she was pregnant, and a few months after the baby’s death earlier this year, they arrested the Rosemont woman who is now on trial for murder in the death of a baby girl who barely, if ever, drew a breath.
The case now underway in front of Sacramento Superior Court Judge Sharon A. Lueras contains two mystifying elements.
One is the possibility of a woman being pregnant and not knowing it, which Addington – who may testify – insists was the case with her. The other is the fact of how a woman who suffered massive vaginal birth lacerations could stay so quiet that her housemates never heard a thing.
“She didn’t let out a peep,” Deputy District Attorney Valerie Brown told the eight women and four men on the jury Monday in her opening statement. “She didn’t call out one time, didn’t let one person know she was in distress. This was her secret. She had her garbage bag and a towel ... (and) she had her little girl, and she shoved her headfirst into that garbage bag.”
Addington, now 25, is charged with murder and child abuse likely to result in death or great bodily injury. Conviction on either count would likely put Addington in prison for 25 years to life.
Defense attorney Jesse Ortiz told the jury his client never believed she was pregnant. She lost so much blood she needed a 4-pint transfusion, according to doctors. As a result, Ortiz said she lost consciousness and has no memory of giving birth.
Ortiz did not dispute the prosecutor’s recitation of evidence that showed Addington had conducted earlier computer searches on aspects of pregnancy such as water breakage.
“But that doesn’t change anything about what she knew and what she was thinking, what she knew about her body,” Ortiz said. The lawyer said her silence during the birth proves that “she couldn’t have been awake while it was happening.”
A onetime Chico State student, Addington worked 60 hours a week on two jobs and was buying her own house, although she needed to bring in roommates to make ends meet, witnesses said. Ortiz said she also suffered from “severe” depression.
At the time of her pregnancy, Addington had been dating a man for about a year and was wearing a “promise ring” he had given her, a sign of their deepening relationship, according to testimony at the trial.
But Addington had a lingering issue with her boyfriend: She wanted children and he didn’t.
Her boyfriend, John Minton, testified he “was beginning to see signs of abdominal distension” last year and that he asked her 14 to 15 times whether she was pregnant. She repeatedly denied it, Minton said, with her denials becoming “more vehement” with every inquiry.
She told Minton the swelling in her belly resulted from her irritable bowel syndrome, which her father told the jury had been a health issue for her for nearly a decade. Minton said that around last Thanksgiving, he gave Addington a hug – and felt something kick in her stomach.
“I said, ‘What was that? Something just kicked me,’” Minton testified. “She said that things had been breaking up (with her irritable bowel syndrome) and moving along lately.”
A week before she gave birth, Addington told Minton that the bowel issue “would probably clear pretty soon,” he told the jury.
In the most emotional moment of the day, Minton fought back tears when he said a security guard at the hospital called him aside at the hospital the night of the birth to tell him, “The baby’s dead.”
The defendant’s father, Darren Addington, testified he began thinking last September “it was a possibility” his daughter was pregnant. He said he asked her about it, she denied it and he believed her.
Late in the morning on Jan. 25, the day of the birth, Addington testified, he called his daughter to see if she wanted some leftovers for lunch. He said he could tell “she sounded stressed,” so he rushed over to her house on Wildrose Way.
When he got there, “She was on all fours,” Addington said, between her bed and the bathroom. “I could tell she was in pain,” Arrington testified. He said his daughter told him that her irritable bowel syndrome had “let loose.”
Darren Addington said his daughter “was moaning in agony” as he drove her to Mercy General Hospital.
Dr. Gertrude Shiu, a staff gynecologist, helped treat Addington. She testified that the woman claimed her injury resulted from “a large bowel movement” and insisted that “she could not possibly be pregnant.” Shiu testified, however, that the locations of the lacerations made her think Addington had just given birth, and that the woman’s hormone levels were “consistent with pregnancy.”
“I was quite concerned there was an infant delivered in her home, so I contacted Sacramento police,” Shiu said.
Asked if it would be possible for a woman to be asleep or unconscious and deliver a baby at home without any medical personnel or equipment at hand, Shiu, who said she has delivered between 2,000 and 3,000 babies, testified, “I have never seen that.”