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Denver Post

Mom charged in death of baby left in trash bin

The state's "safe haven" law would have let the woman safely abandon the infant at a firehouse or hospital.

By Howard Pankratz, Denver Post, Denver, Col, U.S.A.,  July 2, 2004

Griselle Suarez
Griselle Suarez's baby son died Monday after being taken off life support.

A 20-year-old Denver woman was charged with first-degree murder Thursday in the death of her newborn baby, who was abandoned in a trash bin.

The charge came four years to the day after Colorado enacted a so- called safe haven law to allow the anonymous abandonment of newborns at firehouses and hospitals.

The newborn boy was found in a northwest Denver trash bin last Friday and died Monday at St. Anthony Central Hospital after he was taken off life support.

Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter announced that Griselle Suarez is facing the homicide charge and a count of child abuse resulting in death.

Hours after Suarez's baby was found, a second newborn was found dead early Saturday stuffed in a trash can in the women's restroom at Legends Bar and Restaurant in Cherry Creek North.

"What is deeply concerning is the fact that two infants were left for dead in garbage bins very close in time in the city and county of Denver," Ritter said.

"It is particularly distressing because we've passed a statute in Colorado to take care of circumstances just like these kinds of cases," Ritter added.

more than 40 states, including Colorado, have "safe haven" laws where new mothers can give up their children anonymously without fear of prosecution.

The Colorado law specifically states that if a parent takes the newborn to a firefighter at a fire station or a hospital staff member at a hospital within 72 hours of birth, the parent will not face prosecution. However, the child must be handed over in a safe, reasonable and "knowing" manner, according to the law, enacted July 1, 2000.

"It's sad we have two infants in Dumpsters (whose mothers) didn't take advantage of that," Ritter said.

Liz McDonough, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Human Services, said that since the law's enactment, nine people have utilized it - one in 2001, five in 2002 and three in 2003.

Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman called the deaths of the newborns "a very difficult investigation for the Police Department because it does involve a tragic death that could be prevented."

Ritter said the case involving the baby abandoned in Cherry Creek North is being investigated by police and his office.

According to a search warrant affidavit in the Suarez case, police responded to an address in the 4800 block of Beach Court last Friday on a call of a person bleeding, perhaps as the result of a pregnancy.

Witnesses told investigators that they had seen a bleeding Suarez take a box to the trash bin in the alley and that the box contained the child.

Detectives quoted Violeta Suarez, Griselle's sister, as saying that she thought her sister was pregnant but that Griselle had denied it.

After Violeta Suarez saw the box in the trash bin, she returned to the house, where family members found Griselle in the bathroom. They called 911.

Ritter said the murder charge alleges that a homicide was done knowingly by a person in a position of trust to a child under the age of 12.

"It is not felony murder. It is not intentional, deliberate murder. It is that special section of the first-degree murder statute," he said.

Ritter said there have been three similar Denver cases in the past nine years, all involving juvenile girls.

He said one girl, Lolita Stepney, was charged as an adult with child abuse resulting in death after she buried her newborn in a yard. She pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Ritter said two cases involved girls who were 14 and 15. They were charged in juvenile court with the equivalent of what would have been child abuse resulting in death had it been in adult court. They agreed to serve the maximum five-year juvenile term in return for the district attorney's office not filing charges against them as adults.

When asked if a more serious charge than is usual was filed in the latest case, Ritter responded: "The circumstances are somewhat different than the three previous cases. As in every case, we file charges we believe are supported by the evidence."