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Teen pleads guilty in death of newborn left in trash bin

Lawyer: Amy Grossberg takes 'full responsibility'

April 22, 1998
Web posted at: 8:17 p.m. EDT (0017 GMT)

In this story:

WILMINGTON, Delaware (CNN) -- Amy Grossberg, the New Jersey teen who pleaded guilty to manslaughter Wednesday for the death of her newborn son, takes "full responsibility" for her actions, according to her lawyer.

"She stands here accusing no one," said Robert Tanenbaum, who says Grossberg feels genuine remorse for the death of the baby, whose body, wrapped in plastic, was found in the trash bin of a Newark, Delaware, hotel in November 1996.

Grossberg's lawyer, Robert Tanenbaum, comments on her case
icon 731 K / 33 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

While manslaughter carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison in Delaware, a sentence of 2 1/2 years is likely under state sentencing guidelines.

A tearful Grossberg, 19, her voice cracking, answered "Yes, your honor," as the judge asked whether she understood her guilty plea and was admitting to the crime. She made no other statement in court.

Baby born in hotel room

In November 1996, Grossberg, then a freshman art student at the University of Delaware, delivered the baby at a Comfort Inn with the help of her boyfriend at the time, Brian Peterson, a student at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.

Authorities began investigating after Grossberg had to be hospitalized for complications from childbirth after returning to her dormitory.


Grossberg and Peterson claimed the baby was stillborn. But state medical examiners said that the boy was born alive and died of multiple skull fractures caused by blunt trauma and shaking.

The couple -- high school sweethearts from an affluent New Jersey suburb -- were originally charged with first-degree murder and faced a possible death sentence. Last month, Peterson pleaded guilty to manslaughter and agreed to testify against Grossberg.

Legal experts have said Peterson's plea -- in which he acknowledged putting the baby's body in the trash bin but said he believed the baby was dead at the time -- made it virtually impossible for the state to win a first-degree murder conviction against Grossberg.

Prosecutors reduced the charges, planning to put Grossberg on trial in May on charges of second-degree murder and murder by reckless conduct. If convicted, she faced a life sentence.

Boyfriend: Grossberg sought abortion

The plea agreement with Grossberg was reached after her lawyers read a transcript of an interview Peterson had with prosecutors, according to a report in the News Journal, a Wilmington newspaper. In the interview, he reportedly said the boy was blue at delivery and he thought the baby was dead.

The newborn was found dead in this dumpster in November 1996  

He also told prosecutors that Grossberg was yelling, "Get rid of it," a source told the newspaper.

After agreeing to testify against Grossberg, Peterson also told authorities that Grossberg had considered getting an abortion in spring 1996, according to a report in The Record of Hackensack, New Jersey.

Her lawyers confirmed that she had considered having an abortion but eventually decided against it. But the defense maintained that Grossberg believed she was only four or five months pregnant at the time of the delivery because a medical exam in July 1996 did not reveal she was pregnant.

Prosecutor cites 'chilling indifference'

Despite the guilty plea, Tanenbaum said "at no time was there a plan" to harm the baby." He said Grossberg felt remorse for the "unintended consequences" of her actions.

"She should have never gone to the motel. They had no plan. They were two scared teen-agers who were in over their heads," Tanenbaum said.

Defense attorneys for the couple have maintained that any injuries the baby suffered came after it was already dead, when it was dumped in the trash bin.

But Deputy Attorney General Paul Wallace said that whatever actions Grossberg took, or failed to take, the baby's death "was caused by her chilling indifference."

Wallace has not yet made a sentencing recommendation to the court. But he said he believes imprisonment would be "appropriate" for Grossberg.

Both Peterson and Grossberg remain free on $300,000 bond. Both she and Peterson will be sentenced July 9.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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