Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Mom Accused Of Suffocating Baby With Plastic Bag
Anchorage police say Sarah Johnson’s case is first infanticide case of the year
ANCHORAGE—A 33-year-old Anchorage woman is accused of suffocating her 3-week-old daughter with a plastic bag and admitting to it.
But it was a week, though, before Anchorage police even considered Sarah Johnson as a first-degree murder suspect.
Johnson called 911 on Aug. 5, saying her baby was not breathing. She told dispatchers her 3-week-old daughter, Pepper, was blue and cold to the touch.
They talked her through resuscitation moves, but by the time medics arrived, Pepper was dead.
“Two detectives went out to investigate,” said Anchorage police Sgt. Cindi Stanton of APD’s Crimes Against Children Unit. “They spoke to the parents, interviewed them. There was a scene investigation. At that point in time, there was nothing we had—no injuries to the body on the outside of the baby. Then everybody kind of went home.”
Stanton said that was about 8 p.m on Fri., Aug. 5. Several hours later, Johnson posted on her Facebook page:
“Our baby girl was found this evening dead in her crib. We don't know why, but the medical team did ‘all they could.’ Please don't respond, as we know your thoughts are with us. Will be taking a Facebook hiatus for a while. Love to all.”
A week later, on Aug. 12, investigators got new information.
“Last Friday we got a tip that maybe the mother of the child was responsible for killing the child,” Stanton said.
The tip was from Johnson's friend, Amber Michael, who told police that Johnson’s sister, Michelle Karnes, who lives in Idaho, had told Michael that Johnson had admitted to killing Pepper.
According to charging documents, Johnson had called Karnes “on Aug. 8 or 9 and confessed to her that she had suffocated Pepper by placing a plastic bag over her head for 30 minutes.”
On Aug. 16, a detective went back to Johnson, who stuck to her story that Pepper had died in her sleep when she was placed on her stomach.
“She told a little bit about what happened the 48 hours before the incident and then chose not to talk to us any more,” Stanton said.
But Johnson told her husband, Ben, a different story.
Police say Ben agreed to let them record his conversation with his wife.
“She told her husband that she committed the crime,” Stanton said.
According to charging documents, Johnson told her husband “that nothing specific happened that provoked her. The baby was not crying or fussing. She stated that she did it because she felt overwhelmed and wanted out. Sarah (Johnson) admitted that she had told her mom and her sister Michelle the truth, and had lied to the police.”
After that recorded conversation, Johnson was arrested at her home on the 400 block of West 76th Avenue.
In Wednesday afternoon’s arraignment, Johnson told police she didn’t have income or savings. Anchorage district Judge Brian Clark said she would be appointed a public defender.
Johnson’s friends and family members say Johnson, who went off her Prozac medication while pregnant and breast-feeding, is now suicidal.
“The important thing is getting justice for the baby,” Stanton said. “Somebody was killed.”
If convicted, Johnson faces up to 99 years behind bars and $500,000 in fines.
Johnson’s pre-indictment hearing is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
Meanwhile, she’s being held at the Anchorage jail on $500,000 bail and a third-party custodian.
Clark ordered Johnson not to contact her husband or Michael and also told her not to discuss the case with her mother or sister.
Police say they want to remind all parents who feel overwhelmed to make use of the state's safe haven laws, which allows parents to surrender their babies without being prosecuted.