Woman accused of leaving baby in trash free on bail
By CANDACE RONDEAUX, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- The woman accused of throwing her newborn baby girl in a city trash bin was freed from jail Thursday on $10,000 bail.
Dozens of friends and relatives of Stephanie Smith, 23, packed the courtroom during a bail hearing to support Smith, who friends say comes from a close-knit religious family.
Her release came a day before a Pinellas judge will consider Smith's parental rights to the infant girl and whether the child will be placed in foster care.
At that hearing, child protection investigators are scheduled to present their findings on the circumstances surrounding the child's abandonment.
Smith gave birth to the infant, known as "Baby Doe," about 7:30 p.m. Sunday, put the child in a plastic bag, tied it and left the infant in a neighbor's trash bin that same evening, according to St. Petersburg police. The baby spent about 16 hours buried in the trash container with little air and no light before neighbors found her about noon Monday.
George Hudson, a city sanitation worker who for 12 years has picked up the trash bins along the 2600 block of 56th Lane N where the baby was found, said there was no pickup scheduled for that area until about noon Tuesday.
Though cameras mounted to monitor his truck's loading area might have detected movement in the plastic bag, Hudson said he doubted the child could have survived. "It (the baby) wouldn't have lived. Sometimes that garbage comes out packed so tight it falls out in square bales," Hudson said.
Marianne Pasha, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, declined to comment on the findings of her department's child protection investigators.
Smith's criminal defense attorney Gregory Olney said he could not comment on the baby's future and did not know who would represent Smith at Friday's hearing. But Olney said Smith was a "model citizen" who comes from a close, devout Catholic family and had no previous history of run-ins with the law.
"She is loved by her family and members of her church and her community," Olney said. "I've never seen such an outpouring of love and support."
Olney said it is too early to talk about the details of Smith's defense because the State Attorney's Office had not yet filed formal charges.
Olney said his first priority was making sure Smith got the resources she need to recover from her "fragile state."
"We intend to seek counseling through her church and her community. She will be seen by a psychologist," Olney said.
Legal experts say establishing a sense of Smith's psychological state could be key to her defense.
Michelle Oberman, a law professor at De Paul University's College of Law in Chicago who has defended several young women who abandoned their babies, said women such as Smith are typically socially isolated and immature, though they often come from families with strong religious beliefs.
"Most of the women will recognize that they're pregnant but for some reason will not take any action. You'll find this profound denial. The denial becomes almost psychotic in nature. So they're unaware that at some point quite soon their life is going to change profoundly; they're going to have a baby," Oberman said.
The Rev. David De Julio of Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle said he was shocked when he learned of the accusations against Smith. He said Smith's family has long been active in the church. Smith's sister, Kelly Wiand, teaches at the cathedral's school and her mother, Susan Smith, was a prominent member of St. Jude's parish for years. De Julio even performed the services at a funeral for Smith's father, George, in 1999.
"I'm just mystified. This is totally out of the blue. They are such a tight-knit, devout family," De Julio said.
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