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      Murder conviction upheld in Terrell newborn death

      The Supreme Court of Georgia has upheld the murder conviction of a Terrell County woman for the death of her newborn in an opinion released Tuesday. / MGN Online

      The Supreme Court of Georgia has upheld the murder conviction of a Terrell County woman for the death of her newborn in an opinion released Tuesday.

      Justices unanimously ruled that "evidence was clearly sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Samantha Latrice Jessie was guilty of the malice murder of her newborn son and the subsequent concealment of his death."

      The full text of the opinion is below:
      The Supreme Court of Georgia has upheld the murder conviction and life prison sentence given to a young Terrell County woman for the death of her newborn son.

      In today's unanimous decision, Justice Carol Hunstein writes for the court that the "evidence was clearly sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that [Samantha Latrice] Jessie was guilty of the malice murder of her newborn son and the subsequent concealment of his death."

      According to the evidence, Jessie gave birth to her first child when she was 18 years old and a year later, had a second child who was born prematurely and had significant medical needs. Shortly after child welfare officials determined Jessie had essentially abandoned the second baby at a Macon hospital and she subsequently surrendered her parental rights to him, Jessie became pregnant again. Fearing her family's disapproval, she denied she was pregnant when asked and hid her growing belly by wearing girdles and jackets, according to briefs filed in the case. Jessie was living with her 84-year-old grandmother when, on Dec. 17, 2008 in the early morning hours, she went into labor. While her toddler daughter slept on the bed, Jessie, 21, gave birth on the bedroom floor to another baby boy. Her grandmother later said she had heard Jessie moaning and what she thought was a baby crying, but she had not gone into the room to investigate or ask Jessie about it. After the birth, Jessie wrapped the crying baby in a blanket and hid him in the corner of her bedroom behind a bookshelf. The next day she put the bundle in her grandmother's lit kitchen fireplace. Jessie's grandmother meanwhile told her daughter what she thought she had heard, and Jessie's aunt notified authorities. On Dec. 23, GBI agents questioned Jessie, who at first denied having been pregnant. After further questioning, she said she'd had a miscarriage and put the fetus in a nearby dumpster. The agents searched but found no fetus. In another interview the next day, Jessie finally admitted she had given birth to a live baby, wrapped him tightly in a blanket, then left him behind the bookshelf until the next day when she put the baby's body in the fireplace. Upon searching a pile of ashes in the backyard, agents found newborn-sized bones. An obstetrician examined Jessie and confirmed she had recently given birth.

      Following a March 2010 trial, the jury convicted Jessie of malice murder and concealing the death of another, and she was sentenced to life in prison. Her attorney then appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, arguing among other things that the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jessie had intended for the baby boy to die â" a necessary element to proving malice murder. In today's opinion, the high court disagrees.

      "Here, the evidence was easily susceptible to a finding that Jessie, who had previously given birth to two babies, clearly understood and intended that wrapping her unwanted newborn baby in a quilt that covered his face, stashing him in a corner for hours, and then incinerating him in a fireplace would cause his death," the opinion says. Her attorney, who described Jessie as "a poor young black woman from the small town of Dawson, Georgia," also argued that her sentence should be modified because a life sentence for such a young woman "because of such a tragic situation" was inhumane and constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

      But the high court finds she was properly sentenced under the law. "Contrary to Jessie's contention, the fact that she was 22 years old at the time her life sentence was imposed does not render her sentence cruel and unusual," the opinion says.
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