Crime - Sacto 911

Mother pleads no contest in ‘Baby Dwight’ case

Tanisha Edwards, 38, faces a maximum of 11 years in state prison in the case of her missing child. In 2011, she said she gave away her baby to relatives of the baby’s father.
Tanisha Edwards, 38, faces a maximum of 11 years in state prison in the case of her missing child. In 2011, she said she gave away her baby to relatives of the baby’s father. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

The child-endangerment case against Tanisha Edwards may be over, but the mystery continues about what happened to her baby, who disappeared nearly four years ago amid circumstances she has never clearly explained.

Edwards, 38, pleaded no contest Thursday to the endangerment charge in connection with the disappearance of “Baby Dwight” Stallings, who was 11 months old on April 10, 2011 – the last time anybody in Edwards’ family says they saw him. She also entered no-contest pleas to lying three times during a family court proceeding when a judge and other officials were trying to find out exactly what she did with the baby.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi said the investigation into the child’s disappearance remains open but that there is no basis at the moment to go after Edwards or anyone else on a murder charge.

“We can only charge the crimes we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt, based on the evidence we have,” Grippi said in an interview after Edwards pleaded to the four felonies in Sacramento Superior Court. “And the evidence we can prove shows she committed the crimes she pleaded to today.”

Assistant Public Defender Joseph A. Ramirez declined to comment on the case.

Judge Greta Curtis Fall scheduled Edwards’ sentencing for March 6. The defendant has been serving time for probation violations since August 2012, and is facing a maximum term of 11 years in state prison on the endangerment and perjury charges.

Baby Dwight’s disappearance first came to the attention of Sacramento County Child Protective Services in April 2011, a few days after Edwards picked up the boy from his grandmother’s house. According to the district attorney’s trial brief, that would be the last time any of her relatives laid eyes on the child.

Edwards had been on the CPS caseload since the baby’s birth on May 9, 2010, when she tested positive for methamphetamine, according to the trial brief. At the time of Dwight’s birth, Edwards already had two older children she had handed off to her parents to raise, and a long and troubled history in school, the courts and on the streets.

Four days before the baby’s disappearance in 2011, Edwards had failed a drug test required as part of her CPS oversight. CPS caseworkers went to Edwards’ residence for a home visit a week later, but witnesses told them Edwards had gone into hiding, according to the brief. That was three days after Edwards’ mother says she last saw the baby.

Baby Dwight’s father, Hasuan Stallings, told authorities he had a telephone conversation with Edwards later in April during which he thought he heard the baby’s voice. Edwards’ mother, Barbara Edwards, told The Bee in a 2012 interview that she also thought she heard the baby during a phone call with her daughter in May 2011.

Neither Barbara Edwards nor Hasuan Stallings could be reached for comment Thursday.

The DA’s brief said Stallings was in the county jail when he spoke with Edwards. He’d been taken into custody on an outstanding warrant when CPS and sheriff’s investigators came looking for Edwards at a Sacramento-area apartment after her failed drug test.

Stallings told authorities that while he was talking to Edwards from a phone in the jail, she apparently held up the receiver and “an infant could be heard in the background,” the brief said.

The two talked about changing Baby Dwight’s name, and they also discussed a mutual friend “who had given a child to relatives to avoid CPS,” said the brief, written by Deputy District Attorney Eric Kindall, the case prosecutor.

According to the brief, authorities searched a storage locker in May 2011 and found the child’s medical records, infant clothing and “one pillow that tested presumptive positive for blood, but that result could not be confirmed.”

The pillow also contained DNA that traced back to Baby Dwight as “a major donor,” but there was no determination if the DNA came from the substance that may have been blood, the brief said.

Authorities tracked Edwards to a motel on Stockton Boulevard and arrested her on June 4, 2011, on a protective-custody warrant. The trial brief said Edwards called her mother while in custody. When Barbara Edwards asked about the baby, “the defendant told her not to ask such questions over the phone and denied knowing where he was,” the brief said.

During a June 8, 2011, hearing in Sacramento family court, Edwards gave two accounts of what she had done with her son. In one version, she said she left Baby Dwight with relatives of his father on the corner of 73rd Avenue and East 14th Street in Oakland.

In another account, she said she left him in the parking lot of a Motel 6 somewhere in Nevada with two of the father’s female relatives who were dressed “in full-length Muslim attire,” according to the trial brief. The brief said she also told stories about taking the baby to Kansas, Oroville, Seattle and Tennessee.

At one point during the family court hearing, Judge Jerilyn L. Borack accused Edwards of lying about the baby’s whereabouts. “Yep. Sure did,” Edwards replied, according to the trial brief.

When an attorney assigned to represent the baby asked Edwards at the proceeding if she received anything in return for giving the baby away in the Motel 6 parking lot, Edwards replied, “No,” and swore at the attorney. The trial brief said she expressed anger at the suggestion that “I sold my kid to anybody, because that’s not something I would do.”

Released from custody after the hearing, Edwards was arrested again in March 2012, when she was found under the influence of Oxycontin, a violation of her probation. Investigators again pressed her on the whereabouts of Baby Dwight.

“What part of ‘I don’t know’ don’t you understand?” she replied, according to the brief.

Edwards has been in prison since August 2012 for violating her probation on a 2008 felony conviction for illegally buying 500 rounds of ammunition. In October 2013, while she was still in custody, Sacramento County prosecutors filed the child-endangerment and perjury charges. The perjury counts stemmed from her testimony at the June 2011 family court hearing, the brief said, when she denied that she knew where the baby was and said she gave him to people in Oakland and Nevada.

Edwards last March indicated to prosecutors that she wanted a plea bargain, but none was offered. The DA’s office filed a letter with the court in April saying, “the people were opposed to any disposition in this case that fails to include disclosure of the whereabouts of Dwight Stallings,” Kindall’s brief said.

Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.

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