A 25-year-old French au pair who abandoned her newborn daughter outside on a cold March night received a suspended sentence yesterday for involuntary manslaughter.
Alexandria Chief Circuit Court Judge Donald M. Haddock sentenced Karine Gaelle Epailly to five years but suspended the entire term on the condition that she receive psychiatric counseling. Epailly, who had been caring for the three daughters of a French Embassy official, will be deported and banned from the United States.
Haddock's decision drew fire from the prosecutor, who had argued that Epailly should serve five years in prison for leaving the baby on the darkened patio of a garden apartment in 38-degree rain.
"It's a tragedy that this child was left out in the cold to die. It's a worse tragedy that there's no punishment for it," said Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Krista Boucher.
But Assistant Public Defender Jeffrey Barbour said incarceration would not deter others and would not help rehabilitate his client, who he said probably suffered brain damage as a child.
"Ultimately, this was an accident, a tragic mistake," he said. "Misguided as it was, she believed she was giving the child up to a family that could take care of it."
In March, Epailly, who had hidden her pregnancy from her family and friends, gave birth in the bathroom of her au pair suite. She testified at her trial in September that she initially cuddled and breast-fed the little girl, whom she named Sarah. But in the pre-dawn hours of March 4, Epailly decided she could not care for the child and sneaked out to give it away.
Weak from loss of blood and frightened that her parents and employers would be angry if she were found out, Epailly said she was looking for a hospital. But she ended up in an apartment complex.
There, she looked for a patio that seemed to be in frequent use, Barbour said. Epailly never went back to check on the child because "she convinced herself she did the right thing."
The baby's body was found more than a day after she was abandoned, wrapped in a dish towel, wearing only a pair of women's underwear knotted to make a diaper. Three weeks later, a tip led police to Epailly. A state medical examiner testified at trial that the baby probably died of hypothermia.
Epailly said nothing at yesterday's hearing, but she and her mother, who lives in Reston and works at the French Embassy, wept when Boucher described the helpless 6 1/2-pound infant crying alone on the patio. Epailly and Barbour declined to comment after the sentencing.
Epailly had faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, but state sentencing guidelines recommended less than six months.