Woman charged with killing baby while at convent to become a nun gets a plea deal

Prosecutors on Wednesday offered a plea deal to a 26-year-old woman who is accused of smothering her newborn while she stayed at a D.C. convent .

Sosefina Amoa, who was studying to become a Catholic nun, is charged with first-degree felony murder and cruelJty to children in the Oct. 10 death of her son. During a hearing in D.C. Superior Court, prosecutors said they would accept a guilty plea to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Amoa, who arrived in the District from the Pacific Island nation of Samoa on Oct. 5, was staying with the Little Sisters of the Poor on Harewood Road NE when she gave birth, authorities said.

Amoa had told detectives that she did not know she was pregnant and that she smothered the infant — whom she named Joseph — because she feared that the nuns would hear his cries.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Wright said in court that Amoa lied about not knowing she was pregnant.

A day after the birth, Amoa told one of the nuns about the baby, authorities said. Wright added that Amoa initially said she had found the infant outside.

Despite the plea offer, Wright argued that Amoa should remain in jail while the case is being decided. “It is clear by killing her own child, there is something wrong with this woman. The safety of the community is paramount and must be protected.”

Amoa wiped away tears while standing next to her attorney, Judith Pipe of the District’s Public Defender Service. Pipe told the judge that she had just received the plea offer from prosecutors Wednesday and needed time to review it.

Still, Pipe argued that her client was not a danger and challenged the statements Amoa allegedly made to detectives.

“We are not conceding that the statements are true and accurate, and [they] could be a result of a language barrier and cultural differences,” Pipe said.

Pipe added that even if her client did make the admission, Amoa was “not responsible for her actions at that moment.”

“Ms. Amoa has told everyone she did not know she was pregnant until she gave birth,” Pipe said. “There are a lot of facts after the birth of her baby that suggest she was not responsible.”

Pipe declined to elaborate after the hearing.

Defense attorney Betty Ballester, head of the D.C. Superior Court’s Trial Lawyers Association who is not affiliated with the case, said that when defense attorneys argue that their client was not “responsible” at the time of a crime, it is often an indicator of a possible insanity defense.

Judge Robert E. Morin said that, based on the charging documents, he found “great probability” that Amoa had committed the offense and ordered her to remain in jail until her next hearing, on Nov. 21.

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of slain federal intern Chandra Levy.
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