Mom who let baby die in alley gets 5 years

She pleads guilty to manslaughter in the death of the newborn in West Tampa last year.

By COLLEEN JENKINS, Times Staff Writer
Published August 10, 2007

TAMPA — Mary Louise Doe relied on family to raise five of her children. Last year, she let the sixth die in an alley.

For that, a judge said Thursday, she will serve five years in prison and 10 years of probation.

Her family still wonders why Doe didn't turn to them again.

"I can forgive her, but I can never forget," said her mother, Louise Doe. "She didn't go that route with the others, so why this one?"

A somber mood hung over the courtroom where Mary Doe, 42, pleaded guilty Thursday to aggravated manslaughter of a child. One of Doe's aunts left the room sobbing before a prosecutor even read the facts of the case.

Tampa police found a lifeless, decomposed baby girl in a West Tampa alley on May 9, 2006.

Kawandria "Peaches" Doe, Mary's first-born daughter, alerted authorities after finding her mom on the streets, post-delivery.

Doe's family knew she was pregnant with a child she didn't want. She had shown her mother the sonogram and said she wanted her tubes tied when the pregnancy ended.

The lure of life on the streets had kept her from staying in the hospital long enough after previous pregnancies to get the procedure done, her family said.

This time, a woman in Georgia was planning to adopt Doe's child. She decorated the nursery in a Winnie the Pooh theme and chose a name, Alyssa.

Doe said alcohol and crack cocaine blurred her memory of the birth. She told police she had gotten in a fight with another woman, who kicked and punched her and caused her to go into labor, Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters said.

She remembered that her "belly went down" in the alley.

"She heard crying," Peters said, "and walked away."

The other woman, a homeless cocaine user, denied the fight occurred, Peters said.

Tests confirmed that Mary Doe had given birth. During interviews with police, who didn't initially tell her the baby had died, Doe was distraught and repeatedly asked, "Where's my baby?"

Peters said the medical examiner was not able to confirm whether the baby was born alive or its cause of death.

Doe, whose prior arrests included charges of cocaine possession, prostitution and theft, faced up to 30 years in prison if convicted of the latest charge.

But prosecutors requested the lighter sentence because of mitigating circumstances.

She committed the crime in an "unsophisticated manner," Peters said, and showed remorse for what appeared to be an isolated incident.

In addition to Doe's history of psychiatric problems and involuntary hospitalizations, her mental capacity to understand her conduct and its consequences was "substantially impaired," Peters said. Doe initially was found incompetent to stand trial; doctors deemed her competent after she spent a year at the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee.

Doe spoke little during the hearing. She told Circuit Judge Manuel Lopez that she was taking Dilantin, an antiseizure drug. At first, she said it would affect her ability to understand the proceedings but changed her answer after the judge told her to listen carefully to the question.

Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Beardsley said she was confident Doe understood the plea agreement.

It calls for her to undergo drug and psychological evaluations, plus complete any recommended treatment.

During her probation, Doe must reside with her eldest daughter.

Peaches Doe, 26, hasn't broached the subject of Baby Doe with her mother yet. She wants to, she said, but hasn't found the right time.

She knows her mother will need a lot of support to change her ways when she gets out of prison. Peters said the daughter already has proven to be a positive influence in her mother's life.

"That's my mom," Peaches Doe said. "I love her. I'm willing to help her if she's willing to help herself."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or cjenkins@sptimes.com.