Woman studying to become nun pleads guilty to killing newborn at Northeast convent

The 26-year-old woman charged with killing her newborn son while studying to become a Catholic nun in a District convent pleaded guilty Friday to voluntary manslaughter in D.C. Superior Court.

Sosefina Amoa, dressed in a D.C. jail jumpsuit with her wrists and ankles shackled, repeatedly wiped away tears as she stood next to her public defender and interpreter during the hearing. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors agreed to argue for a sentence between four and 10 years in prison, although under District sentencing guidelines, the charge carries a maximum of 30 years.

Amoa’s attorney, Judith Pipe, told Judge Robert E. Morin that her client accidentally smothered her newborn son, Joseph, on Oct. 10 after panicking in the minutes after his birth.

“It was never Ms. Amoa’s intent to harm the baby,” Pipe said. She added that at the time, her client was in a “state of panic, shock, fear and tremendous pain and blood loss as a result of a very difficult delivery.”

Pipe said that after the baby began crying, her client put her hand over the baby’s mouth to quiet him so she could “figure out what to do.” It was an act that her client realizes was “dangerous and reckless,” Pipe said.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Wright painted a more calculating picture of Amoa. Wright told the judge that Amoa hatched a plan of deception to cover her pregnancy as soon as Oct. 5, when she arrived at the Little Sisters of the Poor on Harewood Road in Northeast from the Pacific Island nation of Samoa. Wright said that Amoa lied about being sexually active and hid her pregnancy from the nuns.

Five days after her arrival, Amoa was participating in a prayer but was having difficulty kneeling, Wright said. Amoa left the service, telling the nuns that she was having cramps. After she returned to her room, the nuns went to check on her and offered her food, but she declined. After the nuns left, Amoa went into labor. While standing on the floor and leaning on her bed, she gave birth.

Wright said that Amoa initially told authorities that when the baby was born, he struck his head on the floor and began crying for two to three minutes. She then told authorities that she laid next to the baby and the baby stopped breathing. She then cleaned the blood off the floor with rags and put them in a trash basket. Authorities later found part of the placenta and the umbilical cord in that trash basket.

The next day, Amoa summoned a nun to her room. She told the nun that she found the baby outside and took it to her room. The nun noticed that the infant was “cold and stiff.” The nun and Amoa wrapped the infant in a black, wool garment, put him in a piece of luggage and carried the infant’s body to a hospital.

Days later, when interviewed by homicide detectives, Amoa admitted that she had used the same wool garment to place over the baby’s mouth for two to three minutes after he was born to muffle his cries. A medical examiner determined that the baby was full-term, weighed about six pounds and died as a result of suffocation. The baby also had bruising and scratches around his nostrils. In court, on the table in front of her, Wright had a large medical examiner photograph of the infant mixed in with her paperwork.

“The events leading up to today’s proceeding are profoundly sorrowful [and] we continue to pray for a just, merciful, and final resolution for all concerned,” Sister Loraine Marie, provincial superior for Little Sisters of the Poor, said in a statement.

In court, behind Amoa sat a nun, wearing a habit and holding rosary beads. The nun, according to the attorneys and individuals with her, declined to comment after the hearing as she left the courthouse. Amoa is scheduled to be sentenced May 23.

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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 intern Chandra Levy.
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