A hearing to schedule a trial has been set for a young woman charged with allowing her newborn baby to die and then hiding the body in a dresser drawer, but her attorney and a prosecutor say that doesn't rule out a plea bargain in the case.
Third District Judge A. Lee Dever Thursday set a June 29 court date for Heidi Sonnenberg, 22, who has been charged with child abuse homicide, a third-degree felony.At that time, she is scheduled to appear before 3rd District Judge Dennis M. Fuchs and will be required to enter a plea, either guilty or not guilty, and the judge could set a trial date.
However, attorneys for both sides said discussions still are under way regarding a possible plea bargain.
"This has proceeded in a somewhat different direction than we had contemplated," prosecutor James Cope said outside the courtroom. "We're not having any disagreements."
Earl Xaiz, Sonnenberg's defense attorney, said that Thursday's action does not mean the case will go to trial.
"It certainly means a trial is one viable alternative," he said. "I think there is a decent likelihood we're going to settle this case at some point in time. That's not conceding that either side has a weak position."
Xaiz said the case is "difficult and complex in terms of legal ramifications" and the ongoing discussions are about "what is an appropriate plea and what would she accept and what would the state accept."
The current charge against Sonnenberg of child abuse homicide is punishable by a prison term of zero to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. There are a range of possible charges on the law books that might be addressed by a plea bargain, including negligent homicide, a class A misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Xaiz said Sonnenberg, 22, has been "very traumatized" and "is not having a good time."
"This has shaken her and her family," he said. "There is a real tragedy here. My client's newborn baby died."
Xiaz said Sonnenberg is not dodging responsibility for what occurred, but questions of culpability have yet to be resolved.
Court records indicate Sonnenberg gave birth to a baby girl Jan. 14 over the toilet in her Cottonwood Heights home while unattended. The infant died shortly after birth and Sonnenberg hid the body in a dresser drawer in her bedroom. The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office began to investigate the newborn's death after Sonnenberg's mother discovered the body Jan. 24.
Medical examiner Ed Leis determined that the child had developed between 36 and 40 weeks since conception, had breathed spontaneously since she was delivered alive and had very little blood, probably because the umbilical cord had not been clamped.
The baby's cause of death was determined to be "blood loss, lack of stimulation, her airway not being cleared and temperature loss."
Prosecutors stopped short of charging Sonnenberg with murder because there was no evidence she intended to kill the child.
Sonnenberg's father has said that Sonnenberg was guilty and embarrassed about being pregnant, and he suggested Sonnenberg was depressed and possibly went into denial. She hid her pregnancy by wearing baggy clothes.