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Life sentence for Dawson woman who killed her baby upheld by high court

The Georgia Supreme Court finds that the life sentence imposed on Samantha Latrice Jessie is justified

Samantha Latrice Jessie's life sentence for killing her newborn son in 2008 and burning the body has been upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court. (Photo: Georgia Department of corrections)

Samantha Latrice Jessie's life sentence for killing her newborn son in 2008 and burning the body has been upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court. (Photo: Georgia Department of corrections)

ATLANTA — The Supreme Court of Georgia has upheld the murder conviction and life prison sentence given to a young Terrell County woman, Samantha Latrice Jessie, for the death of her newborn son.

In a unanimous decision announced, Justice Carol Hunstein, writing for the court, said that the “evidence was clearly sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Jessie was guilty of the malice murder of her newborn son and the subsequent concealment of his death.”

According to a news release from the Supreme Court, Jessie, who already had given birth to two children and who abandoned the second one who was premature and had significant medical needs, had gotten pregnant a third time and hid the fact from her family. At age 21, she went into labor Dec. 17, 2008, and gave birth to a baby boy.

She was living with her 84-year-old grandmother, who heard Jessie moaning during the delivery and thought she heard a baby crying, but didn’t inquire. Jessie wrapped the baby in a blanket and hid him behind a bookshelf, placing the infant in her grandmother’s lit fireplace the next day, the court said.

The grandmother shared her suspicion with her daughter and the aunt notified authorities. When questioned by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation of Dec. 23, Jessie first denied the pregnancy, then claimed she had a miscarriage and placed the baby in the Dumpster. On Christmas Eve in another interview, she admitted giving birth to a live boy, wrapping him tightly and hiding him behind the bookshelf and then burning the body. The GBI found newborn-sized bones in an ash pile in the backyard and doctors confirmed she had recently given birth.

In March 2010, a trial jury convicted Jessie of malice murder and concealing the death of another. She was sentenced to life in prison. Her attorney 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 — a necessary element to proving malice murder.

The high court rejected that argument.

“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.

The defense 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 determined Jessie 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.

Jessie is confined at Pulaksi State Prison.