Despite the existence of Safe Haven laws in all 50 of these United States, newborns are still being abandoned by their mothers and allowed to die of exposure to the elements.
Case in point: On the evening of Tuesday, November 12, 2019, two teenagers in Port Jervis, New York, near the place where the borders of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York intersect, were walking home when they made the fateful choice to cut through a vacant lot at 39 Orange Street. They tripped over something they initially thought was a doll, but upon closer inspection, they were horrified to discover they had stumbled over the lifeless body of an unclothed newborn baby lying atop some rocks just off the walking path.
Officers from the Port Jervis Police Department responded to the vacant lot at about 10:30 that evening. Upon their arrival, they determined that the baby girl was, in fact, deceased and “appeared to have been born recently,” as her umbilical cord was still attached.
Temperatures in Port Jervis that evening dropped to 15 degrees.
Investigators taped off the scene and worked overnight to process the scene for forensic evidence and interview neighbors and potential witnesses, seeking to clarify the circumstances leading up to the baby’s death.
A pediatric autopsy was performed on Wednesday, November 13 at the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office. Based on the results, investigators allege the infant was born, premature at 30 weeks gestation but alive, on November 12 and abandoned by her mother in freezing temperatures, which caused the baby to die of exposure. Her manner of death was determined to be homicide with the cause stated as environmental exposure.
Port Jervis Police asked “the public to keep the young infant in their thoughts and prayers.”
Authorities quickly identified the baby’s mother, interviewed her, and executed a search warrant at her residence, but it wasn’t until Tuesday, February 18, 2020 that 22-year-old Nicole H. Layman was arrested and charged with second degree murder in the death of her newborn daughter, Sophia Grace Hadden. Nicole is being held without bail at the Orange County Correctional Facility while she waits for a possible grand jury indictment.
The charge against Nicole alleges that she “recklessly engaged in or created grave risk of serious physical injury under circumstances that demonstrated depraved indifference that led to the death of someone younger than 11 years old,” according to District Attorney David Hoovler.
At the time of Sophia’s birth, Nicole had been living with her boyfriend, Andrew Hadden, and his family on Hornbeck Avenue. She had hidden her pregnancy, according to Port Jervis Police Chief William J. Worden, who said it was a “difficult investigation,” but that authorities were thorough enough to bring justice to baby Sophia. According to Chief Worden, Sophia was not born inside the Hadden home, and authorities do not believe anyone besides Nicole herself was involved in Sophia’s death.
Sophia was named by her grandmother.
Nicole, who was born on December 20, 1996 and is not believed to have any living children, would not give police her reason for abandoning Sophia. She suffers from “mental health issues,” according to Hoovler, who declined to provide additional details and said during a press conference, “quite simply, I just believe she did not want to have a child.”
A search for Nicole on Facebook whisked me down a rabbit hole, where I finally determined that she has no less than three separate Facebook profiles (which, oddly, are interlinked as “friends” with each other). Two profiles are under the name Nicole Layman, but the third bears the name Heather Christine Cornell, although I couldn’t find a reason why that might be. On one of the Nicole Layman pages, a friend commented on a photo, calling Nicole by the name of Heather, so it’s possible she informally goes by that name.
Her boyfriend, Andrew, who is either 22 or 23 years old and believed to be Sophia’s father, also has at least two profiles. One of these lists his relationship status as “In a Relationship” since June 30, 2016. On one of Nicole’s profiles, she listed “Got Married” as a life event on June 30, 2016.
All of Nicole’s timelines are full of memes about fake friends, depression, and not caring about other people’s opinions. Many of these are posted on the same profiles more than once, as if she forgot she posted them before. She also posted the results of about a billion Facebook personality quizzes. Multiple times, she threatened to deactivate at least one of her profiles, but these threats were most likely attempts at attention-grabbing.
Look; I understand clinical depression and the toll it takes on the mind and body all too well, but no matter how severe your depression is, it is not an excuse for murder. Period.
A small memorial has sprouted at the spot where Sophia was found, including candles, lanterns, balloons, and stuffed animals.
Without an ounce of care — or even basic human decency — from her mother, this little girl had literally zero chance at life. There is absolutely no excuse, no matter how frightened or shocked — or depressed — a new mother may be after giving birth, to leave a newborn baby to die, exposed to the elements and suffering from the first moment of its life to the very last.
Every state has Safe Haven or Safe Surrender laws. These laws differ by state in the amount of time a birth parent has to surrender the infant and which locations are considered safe havens. In 32 states, infants can be relinquished up to 30 days after birth, said Damien Johnson, director of communications of the National Safe Haven Alliance, whose motto is: You have options. The organization’s website states that as of this writing, there have been 4,014 babies saved by these laws, which allow a parent to surrender an infant up to a certain age without suffering negative repercussions, being prosecuted, or being identified.
As far as locations where babies can be surrendered, hospitals are considered safe havens in all 50 states. Some states also allow newborns to be relinquished at fire stations or police stations.
In New York State, the Abandoned Infant Protection Act allows a parent to abandon a baby up to 30 days old, while remaining anonymous and without fear of prosecution, as long as the baby is left with an appropriate person in a suitable location, including hospitals, health centers, and police and fire stations.
“We want to promote that information because we want to prevent tragedies like this happening again in the future,” Chief Worden said. After the press conference, Worden, a Port Jervis police officer for 27 years who was promoted to chief in 2007, became emotional talking about Sophia’s death, saying it tore at his heartstrings because he is a father himself.
In a statement, Hoovler said, “Help is available within Orange County for those who believe they are unable to care for their children. Infants are the most innocent of victims. Consigning an infant to die of exposure is unnecessary, illegal, and barbaric.”
If convicted of second-degree murder, Nicole faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison. If a jury chooses instead to convict her on a charge of manslaughter, her sentence could range from five to 15 years in prison. Port Jervis Assistant District Attorney Christopher Kelly and Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Kontos will be prosecuting the case.
The National Safe Haven Alliance can be reached by a toll-free crisis hotline number: (888) 510-BABY. Visit the organization’s website for information on individual states.
Sources: ABC News, NJ Herald, Times Herald-Record, NBC New York, Patch.com, ABC7 New York, News 12 Hudson Valley