A 19-year-old Virginia woman who allegedly placed her infant son in a microwave oven was indicted yesterday by a New Kent County grand jury on a charge of first-degree murder.
After hearing brief testimony in the case against Elizabeth Renee Otte yesterday morning, the grand jury decided to send the case to trial April 28 in New Kent County Circuit Court. Otte allegedly placed her son into a household microwave oven in the early hours of Sept. 23 and turned on the microwave, killing the infant.
If convicted of the murder charge, she could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The death of 1-month-old Joseph Lewis Martinez stunned the tight-knit community of Lanexa, 35 miles east of Richmond. Otte remains free on $20,000 bond.
Stephen D. Harris, Otte's attorney, declined to comment after the indictment.
Commonwealth's Attorney C. Linwood Gregory said very little evidence was presented to the grand jury yesterday in a brief, closed hearing, which included testimony from a sheriff's deputy regarding physical evidence obtained at the scene and overviews of statements made to authorities.
"At this point, I hope to proceed with the prosecution for first-degree murder," Gregory said.
"Horrible is the only way to describe it," he said of the incident.
According to Otte's friends, the teenager said that she had an epileptic seizure and doesn't remember what she did at the time she allegedly placed her son in the oven. Prosecutors say that the type of seizures Otte experiences--grand mal seizures--are usually debilitating and couldn't explain such an act.
In December, a New Kent County General District Court judge ordered that Otte undergo a psychiatric evaluation by mid-January. It is intended to determine whether she is competent to stand trial and whether she was sane at the time the baby was placed in the oven.
Gregory said "malice is implied" by putting the baby into the microwave oven, adding that it would have taken several distinct and complex actions to place the baby into the 18-inch unit and subsequently program it to start.
According to a medical examiner's report, the baby died of thermal injuries that are of the type that can be caused by a microwave.
CAPTION: Elizabeth Renee Otte