The 19-year-old mother charged with murdering her baby in a microwave oven was released on a $20,000 bond today and will undergo a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation over the next several weeks.
Elizabeth Renee Otte, looking stunned and sad in her blue prison uniform, appeared before New Kent County District Judge Bruce Long. She made no comment as her attorney and a county prosecutor stood beside her, arguing about the terms of her bail and psychiatric evaluation. She wore no shackles or restraints.
A court-appointed doctor will attempt to determine whether Otte is competent to stand trial and whether she was sane when she allegedly put her 1-month-old baby, Joseph Lewis Martinez, into a microwave oven early Sept. 23.
Her father, Larry J. Otte, testified that he would take custody of his daughter and make sure she continues taking two anti-seizure medications.
Long told Larry Otte that the responsibility for his daughter would fall to him once she was released from jail, as she was later in the day. "I'm imposing that responsibility on you, sir," the judge said.
Long also ordered Otte to make his daughter available for the psychiatric evaluation and to report any suicide threats to the court. She may not leave the state.
Elizabeth Otte is charged with first-degree murder in her son's death. The infant, born Aug. 18, was found dead in the microwave at the house where she was living with the baby's father in the small town of Lanexa, about 35 miles east of Richmond.
Friends say she has told her family that an epileptic seizure caused such severe disorientation that she thought she was putting a bottle, not the baby, in the microwave.
C. Linwood Gregory, commonwealth's attorney in New Kent County, argued that Otte should be held without bond in a local jail, where she has been under round-the-clock supervision. He said Otte was committed to a hospital shortly after the baby's death because of suicide threats. She has been in a medical unit in a local jail since last Wednesday.
"Because of her medical problems and the threats she has made to herself, she may be a threat to herself and possibly to others," Gregory told the judge.
After the hearing, Gregory expressed frustration at the judge's decision and said he expected the case to go to a jury trial.
Gregory also made his most direct comment to date on reports that Otte's epilepsy contributed to the baby's death, a possibility he and other authorities have been investigating. He said Otte may have stopped taking the anti-seizure medicine during her pregnancy because the drugs can cause birth defects.
"I don't question that she suffers from seizures, but I don't think it's a justification for what's occurred," he said.
Otte's father, speaking in a soft voice as he stood just a few feet from the judge, testified in the hearing that his daughter began having seizures at age 15 while on vacation in Arkansas.
Larry Otte, joined at the court by three family members, said Elizabeth Otte had been on two anti-seizure drugs.
He offered no other explanation for his daughter's alleged behavior and declined questions from reporters afterward.
Otte's attorney, Susanna Hickman, also declined to elaborate.
"We have a lot of information we're going through and we're working on the case, but we have no comment at this time," Hickman said.
Otte's next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 17.