Judge orders woman held in death of infant son to remain in jail under suicide watch

The 26-year-old Samoan woman who was studying to become a Catholic nun, but who police say smothered her newborn baby, was ordered to remain jailed Friday while under suicide watch.

Prosecutors charged Sosefina Amoa with first-degree felony murder and cruelty to children in the Oct. 10 death of her newborn son. Prosecutors say Amoa hid her pregnancy from the nuns at the Little Sisters of the Poor convent in the 4200 block of Harewood Road NE, gave birth to her son and then, fearing that the baby would start crying and alert the nuns, smothered the baby with a black wool garment.

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During Amoa’s first court appearance Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Wright argued that she should be retained in jail, calling Amoa a “danger to the community.”

“There is obviously something seriously wrong,” Wright said. “She was here to become a nun. But anyone willing to kill her own child is a danger to others.” Wright requested that Amoa undergo a psychiatric screening.

Amoa’s attorney, Judith Pipe of the District’s Public Defender Service, argued that the incident was “out of character” for her client and told the judge that Amoa was not in her right mind and was not responsible for her actions.

Pipe argued that Amoa should be released from jail. She said that the although the nuns at the convent said she could not return to the seven-acre facility across the street from Catholic University, they had made arrangements for her to go to another Catholic facility.

Magistrate Judge William C. Nooter rejected a psychiatric screening, but ordered Amoa to remain in jail until her next hearing Wednesday. But Nooter did order that while in jail, Amoa be under suicide watch.

Amoa stood next to her attorney with her ankles and wrists in shackles. She softly said her name when a court official asked her to identify herself as her case was called. Amoa was supposed to have her initial hearing Thursday, but that was pushed back a day after she was taken to a local hospital.

According to court papers, Amoa told detectives that when the 6-pound 2-ounce baby was born in her bedroom Oct. 10, she was afraid that the nuns in the convent would hear his cries. D.C. police said she smothered the newborn — whom she named Joseph — and a day later, with the help of a nun, she took the body to a hospital in a suitcase.

Initially Amoa told police that she lie down with the infant, who cried for two or three minutes and then stopped suddenly, according to the court papers. She told police that she became afraid that the nuns would hear the baby and find out that she had lied to them about past sexual activity.

Amoa had only been in Washington for five days after arriving from Samoa. Wright said she had moved into the convent as a postulant, or student of doctrine and prayer life.

One unidentified nun, dressed in full habit, sat in the audience during the hearing. Two unidentified attorneys, who weren’t with the Public Defender Service, sat on either side of her. After the hearing, the individuals escorted the nun out of the back door of the courthouse. “The sister will not have anything to say today,” one of the escorts said.

 
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