Sosefina Amoa, 26, pleaded guilty Friday to voluntary manslaughter in the smothering death of her infant son. In exchange for her plea, prosecutors have agreed to drop an initial charge of first-degree murder.
Through her attorney Judith Pipe, Amoa said she never intended to harm her son. In a state of “pain, shock, fear,” and the associated “tremendous pain and blood loss from a very difficult delivery,” Amoa placed her hand over her baby’s mouth “to quiet the baby so she could figure out what to do next,” said Pipe.
According to the proffer of facts, an autopsy showed bruising and scratching around the baby’s nostrils. The baby, Joseph Amoa, was born alive and breathing, weighing 6 pounds, 2 ounces.
Prosecutors allege that Amoa killed her newborn son to hide her pregnancy from members of the religious order she was seeking to join.
“Mitigating circumstances do not rise to the level of legal defense,” said Pipe, “But it is very important to Ms. Amoa to tell the court that she never intended to harm her child.”
The proffer of facts states that on October 5, 2013, Amoa arrived in the United States from Samoa to begin a religious formation program with the “Little Sisters of the Poor” convent in Northeast DC. After her arrival, members of the convent noticed that Amoa had “difficulty kneeling,” documents say.
On the morning of Oct. 10, Amoa asked to be excused to her room around 8:30 a.m. or 9:00 a.m. because she said she was having menstrual cramps. One of the nuns went to her room multiple times to offer her assistance or food, but Amoa refused. The nun observed saw Amoa was “sweaty and in pain” documents say.
According to the proffer of facts, Amoa gave birth around 11:00 a.m., standing on the floor while leaning on her bed. The baby fell straight down and struck the floor.
The proffer states that Amoa then lay next to the baby, but was afraid that someone would hear the child crying and learn of her pregnancy. She placed a black wool garment over the child’s nose and mouth, and applied pressure for two to three minutes. When she removed the garment from the child’s nose and mouth, and Amoa told police she knew the baby was dead, court documents say.
According to charging documents, Amoa told police she kept the child in her room at the convent for the rest of that day. Amoa said that during this time she contemplated throwing the baby into the trash until the following morning when she told a nun what had happened, court documents state.
Pipe said in court that the prosecution has allowed her to argue for a significantly lessened sentence for Amoa. The maximum penalty for voluntary manslaughter is 30 years in prison.
Amoa is scheduled to be sentenced on May 23.
A press release from the United States Attorney’s Office is below. Plea documents have been added after the press release.
District Woman Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter In Death of Infant at Northeast Washington Convent
Admits Killing Child Shortly After Giving Birth
WASHINGTON – Sosefina Amoa, 26, formerly of Samoa, pled guilty today to a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the death of her infant son, who was born within a week after she moved into a convent in Northeast Washington, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. announced.
Amoa pled guilty to the charge in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. The Honorable Robert E. Morin scheduled sentencing for May 23, 2014.
According to a proffer of facts presented at the plea hearing, Amoa arrived in the United States from Samoa on Oct. 5, 2013. She then entered a program to become a member of the Little Sisters of the Poor, an international congregation of Roman Catholic women who provide worldwide service to the elderly poor. She was considered a “Postulant,” a person who wanted to be admitted into a religious order. Amoa moved into the Little Sisters of the Poor’s convent in Northeast Washington, where she was to reside for five months while she received religious classes, learned doctrine, experienced prayer and community life, and cared for residents.
On Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, Amoa asked to be excused from her duties and went to her room. The baby was born in Amoa’s room that morning. Amoa cleaned the room in what authorities determined was an attempt to hide the birth of the child.
The following morning, Oct. 11, 2013, Amoa contacted one of the Sisters and took her to her room, where she showed her the baby. The Sister knew that the infant was dead.
Amoa gave conflicting accounts to the Sisters and police about what happened. Ultimately, on Oct. 16, 2013, she told detectives with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) that, after she gave birth to the child, the baby fell to the floor. She said that she got on the floor next to the baby, not knowing what to do, and that she was afraid that someone would hear crying and learn of her pregnancy. According to Amoa, she then placed a wool garment over the baby’s nose and mouth and applied pressure with her hand for two to three minutes.
The District of Columbia Office of the Medical Examiner determined that the cause of death was asphyxia. The infant was a fully developed, full-term baby, born alive. There was evidence in the lungs that the baby had cried and had been alive before being asphyxiated. Additionally, there was bruising and scratches to the infant’s nostrils.
In announcing the plea, U.S. Attorney Machen commended the work of the detectives, officers, and others who investigated the case from the Metropolitan Police Department. He also expressed appreciation to the District of Columbia Office of the Medical Examiner and the District of Columbia Department of Forensic Sciences for assistance in the investigation. Finally, he acknowledged the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Paralegal Specialist Kelly Blakeney, Victim/Witness Advocate Marcia Rinker, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia G. Wright, who is prosecuting the case.