Courtney Kathleen Addington was a warm, gentle young woman with a love for children and a Christian upbringing by a good family. Before this year, she had a minor criminal history and plenty of friends who loved her.
What to do, then, in light of Addington’s heinous crime? How does one sentence a woman who, despite the accolades of those who knew her, stuffed her newborn baby into a garbage bag, hid it under her bed and left the infant to die?
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Sharon A. Lueras pondered those questions Friday morning as she peered down at the frail-looking Addington, her red hair in childlike braids.
“I see this beautiful young woman, who by all accounts is a caring young woman,” Lueras said. “You don’t look like your typical defendant, sitting there.”
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Then the judge’s tone changed: “I have to recall the facts of the case.”
Those facts – according to law enforcement, prosecutors and a jury of 12 – paint a disturbing picture of Addington’s pregnancy and her baby daughter’s short life. She explained away her increasingly bloated belly with lies about irritable bowel syndrome, despite a previous aborted pregnancy and Internet searches the night before the baby’s birth on signs of labor and water breakage.
When the baby came Jan. 25, she put the baby in a garbage bag, hid it under the bed and then asked her father to take her to a hospital. There, she denied giving birth and later, when questioned by detectives, said she thought the little girl she had delivered was just a bloody, painful stool.
“It was a live girl. She was 7 pounds,” Lueras said. “You put her in a plastic bag ... and you left that baby to die.”
The thought of baby Hayden Elaine gasping for air, the judge said after pausing briefly to compose herself, is “unconscionable and it’s haunting.”
Lueras said she wished she could put Addington on probation and recommend counseling. But her “horrible choice” merited something far more severe – the maximum possible prison term of 25 years to life.
“I have to stand here for Baby Hayden and let her know her life mattered, and her mother must (be held accountable) for ending her life in a cruel and callous way,” Lueras said.
The sentence came down in front of a packed, emotional courtroom audience. On one side sat Addington’s parents, friends and family, who maintained the young woman’s innocence in tearful testimonies before Lueras.
“I love her dearly, and this is so wrong,” her father, Darren Addington, said. “It’ll be found out in the end.”
On the other of the aisle sat the baby’s father, John Minton, and his family and friends. Several members of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department sat among them.
Minton said he was not there to ask for a harsh penalty or leniency for his former girlfriend, who he said betrayed his trust.
“I ask only that we remember what brought us to where we are, and we remember my daughter Hayden Elaine,” he said, before returning to his seat and melting into quiet sobs.
In representing Addington during the trial, attorney Jesse Ortiz said the woman did not know she was pregnant, lost consciousness because of heavy bleeding during the birth and bagged up the body believing it was the final remnants of her irritable bowel syndrome. On Friday, he continued his defense by filing a motion for a new trial, arguing that deputies illegally searched Addington’s home and that disturbing photos of the dead baby emotionally impacted jurors and hurt his client’s chances for a fair trial.
When Lueras denied the motion and moved on to sentencing, Ortiz continued to stand by Addington.
“Ms. Addington is the good person that her family have described,” he said. “I don’t think it is possible we’ll know specifically what happened on that day, but Ms. Addington didn’t do anything to harm that baby.”
Lueras was not swayed. She lamented the difficult sentence she was about to impose, then handed it down and unceremoniously ended the hearing. A bailiff cleared the courtroom as Addington sat, staring head.
Outside, in a quiet hallway on the fifth floor of the county courthouse, one family hugged and another wept.