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Woman is charged in death of newborn

Heidi L. Sonnenberg's baby would have lived if she had been born at a hospital.

"That's the opinion of the medical examiner," said Deputy District Attorney Jim Cope, who filed a third-degree felony child abuse homicide charge in 3rd District Court against Sonnenberg Tuesday.Instead of seeking help, Sonnenberg, 22, delivered the fully developed child over her toilet, cut the umbilical cord with nail clippers and left her to bleed to death, according to the charges.

The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office began to investigate the newborn's death when Sonnenberg's mother found the body Jan. 24 inside a dresser drawer in Sonnenberg's room at their Cottonwood Heights home.

Sonnenberg told authorities she had given birth to the girl early Jan. 14 while unattended and unassisted, the charges state.

"The child was born alive while (Sonnenberg) stood over the toilet to deliver," the charges state. Sonnenberg "did not summon help at either the delivery or death of the child. (She) cut the umbilical cord with nail clippers but did not clamp or tie the cord."

"We have no idea how long the child lived, but the child did live long enough that (Sonnenberg) should have done something to preserve its life," Cope said.

When emergency crews arrived at the house, 7641 S. Mary Esther Circle, "they were directed to the body of what appeared to be a newborn, recently deceased female," the charges state.

Medical examiner Ed Leis conducted an autopsy and determined that the "child had developed between 36 and 40 weeks since conception, that she had breathed spontaneously since she was delivered alive, (and) that there was relatively littleblood in her body, probably because the umbilical cord had not been clamped or knotted."

Leis' report "concludes that this child died from blood loss, lack of stimulation, her airway not being cleared and temperature loss," the charges state. "The manner of death is characterized by Dr. Leis as homicide."

Prosecutors stopped short of charging Sonnenberg with murder because there was no evidence that she intended to kill the child, Cope said.

"There's no mark on the child's body indicating that the child was struck or anything like that," Cope said. "Everything that she told us is pretty well in conformance to the physical findings."

Regarding previous reports that the newborn had twisted blood vessels that may have caused her heart to stop beating once she left the womb, the medical examiner did find an anomaly in the heart, Cope said. But that type of anomaly, found in many other people, is not generally considered life-threatening.

"She . . . neglected to do a number of things that could have and should have been done by her to preserve this child's life," Cope said.

Neither Sonnenberg nor her family could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Sonnenberg's father, John Sonnenberg, an orthopedic surgeon, said last week his daughter, a part-time student at Salt Lake Community College, had felt guilty and embarrassed about the pregnancy, which she successfully hid under baggy clothing. Nobody knew the girl was pregnant until the woman's mother found the baby's body 10 days after birth.

"It seems to us that the care of this child wasn't something she gave any thought to," Cope said.

The baby's father, who has been notified, and Heidi Sonnenberg had dated but ended the relationship about five months ago. The father lives in the Salt Lake area, John Sonnenberg said.

Heidi Sonnenberg has not been arrested and is still living at her family's home. If convicted, she could spend up to five years in prison.