Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014

Mom accused of killing 6 newborns held on $6 million bond

Shocked neighbors, police still have many questions about 'heinous' case

By Pat Reavy, Deseret News

Published: Mon, April 14 4:15 p.m. MDT

 Authorities discovered seven dead babies in this Pleasant Grove home over the weekend.

Authorities discovered seven dead babies in this Pleasant Grove home over the weekend.

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

PLEASANT GROVE — When Megan Huntsman was asked to accompany investigators to the police station Sunday to answer questions, she seemed to know she wasn't coming back.

"She had told (her boyfriend) that something had happened and she was going to jail," neighbor Josh Flowers said. "They said she was upset. She said, 'I love you and I'm going to jail,' and walked out."

Flowers was one of the many people on Monday who used the word "shocked" to describe the unsettling discovery made by Huntsman's estranged husband and Pleasant Grove police over the weekend.

The bodies of seven infants — six of them allegedly killed immediately after birth — were found in the garage of Huntsman's old home, 536 W. 200 North in Pleasant Grove.

"Each baby was found wrapped in either a towel or a shirt, placed inside of a plastic bag, and each was contained in a separate cardboard box," a police affidavit filed in Provo's 4th District Court states. "Ms. Huntsman admitted that between 1996 and 2006, she gave birth to at least seven babies at the Pleasant Grove residence, and that all of the babies, but one, were born alive, and that she either strangled or suffocated the babies immediately after they were born."

Huntsman told investigators she gave birth to the stillborn infant in 2006. "The baby was well preserved and appeared to be full term," the affidavit states.

No criminal charges have yet been filed against Huntsman, 39. She was booked into the Utah County Jail for investigation of six counts of murder. Prosecutors requested in court Monday that she remain in jail in lieu of $6 million bail — or $1 million for each of the six babies she's accused of killing.

"She was arrested because she is a flight risk and this is a heinous, horrible crime," Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman said after the hearing.

Huntsman is under special watch at the jail as a precaution to prevent her from potentially harming herself, Pleasant Grove Police Chief Mike Smith said.

During her brief bail hearing Monday, Huntsman — appearing via video from the jail — seemed distant and didn't attempt to argue her bail.

"That's fine," she told the judge.

Huntsman also told the judge she has lived in Utah all her life and has no prior criminal history.

Buhman said he hoped to file formal charges by her next scheduled court hearing in a week. However, there are still many questions that needed to be answered.

The Utah State Medical Examiner's Office was conducting tests on the infants in an attempt to confirm the causes of death of each as well as who the fathers are. Other questions detectives were still investigating on Monday include how Huntsman was allegedly able to conceal her pregnancies, births and the discarded bodies, and whether anyone else could have potentially known what was going on.

"I've never seen anything like this in my career," said Pleasant Grove police detective Dan Beckstrom, who arrested Huntsman over the weekend. "This isn't something we ever expect to have to deal with."

Smith also could not say if any of the infants had anything in common, such as whether they were all of the same sex. He said her estranged husband could potentially be the father of the deceased infants.

"The timeline works out that he could possibly be the father, and that's something we'll continue to investigate," he said.

Investigators believe Huntsman was telling the truth when she allegedly admitted giving birth to all seven infants.

"We don't have any information that would lead us to believe what she's telling us is not true," the chief said. He hoped to have more answers from the medical examiner by the end of the week, such as cause and manner of each death.

Huntsman has three daughters, ages 22, 20 and 14.

At the time of her arrest, Huntsman was living in a modular home at 3880 S. Hummingbird Street in West Valley City. Flowers, who lives next door, said Huntsman had been living there with her boyfriend for at least a year and a half.

"She was nice. You would have never known in a million years that she could have done this. I mean, she was always nice. My daughters adored her. He has a (4- or 5-) year-old son that she took care of all the time. They were always together," he said. "I didn't notice anything that would have been shady or a red flag."

Flowers said when Huntsman went with police on Saturday, she mentioned something about a stillborn child. He didn't find out about the six other bodies until seeing news reports Sunday night.

"I can't even imagine what her own daughters are going through as well as her ex-husband when they found what they found. I couldn't be in their footsteps. There's no way. And just knowing what had happened and knowing my kids, yeah, it's mind-boggling," he said.

According to Flowers, numerous officers arrived at her home Saturday morning and searched the property until about 11:30 p.m. Huntsman was taken to the police station early for questioning, while her boyfriend was away attending to a family funeral.

"There were items of evidence collected from that location. We were not able to uncover any other crimes or infants," Smith said.

Darren West, Huntsman's estranged husband, called her after finding one of the deceased infants in the garage, and then called police after she told him it was hers, the police affidavit states.

West was convicted federally in 2006 of possessing meth-making materials, including phosphorus and iodine, according to court records. He was sentenced to nine years in prison and was just in the process of moving back into his Pleasant Grove house.

Smith said there were five people living at the Pleasant Grove house and adjoining apartment, including Huntsman and West's three daughters. He believes the garage had been used only for storage and the family was in the process of cleaning it out when the horrible discovery was made.

"It looks like they had been into the job for quite awhile," he said.

Flowers said Huntsman had told him that after West was convicted, she was no longer welcome in the house owned by West's family. Their three daughters, however, were allowed to stay.

Flowers also said Huntsman and her current boyfriend told him that she was pregnant again as recently as a few months ago, but had a miscarriage.

"As far as we know, she went to the doctor for that one," he said.

Smith had no comment Monday on reports of another pregnancy.

How Huntsman, who is listed in jail records as being 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 105 pounds, could have hidden seven pregnancies may have been simply due to common public courtesies, one Pleasant Grove neighbor said.

"There's been times she'd put on weight and I thought, 'Is she pregnant?' But of course, that's something you don't ask a woman," said SanDee Wall, who has lived next to the Pleasant Grove house since 2000.

"But then there was no children anymore. But there was a couple of times I thought so with the weight gain, because she's very tiny. But it's a shock. The first thing that comes to my mind is how can you have them at home and not have any appearance of it? Kind of makes you wonder, 'How did it all happen?'" she said.

Wall now has many of the same questions that others have about the bizarre case.

"Why? Why would it ever happen? It's just crazy. It's heartbreaking to me," she said.

Wall described Huntsman as being very quiet, although she said she appeared to be a good mother. She described West as a very good person who was in the "wrong place at the wrong time" when he was arrested and convicted.

"It is hard to express with words, the emotions surrounding our family at this time. (Saturday's) events have left us in a state of shock and confusion. We are mourning this tragic loss of life and we are trying to stay strong and help each other through this awful event," West's family said in a prepared statement released Sunday.

Smith said this hasn't been an easy case for his detectives.

"It obviously takes its toll on the officers involved in this case. We have an employee assistance program if our employees need to talk to somebody," he said. "It's very fair to say this is very hard on an individual on anybody that has to deal with this kind of tragedy."

Utah enacted a Safe Haven Law in 2001. According to the law, every 24-hour hospital in Utah is considered a Safe Haven, or a place where a newborn baby can be dropped off with no questions asked if a mother cannot take care of it.

There is also a 24-hour hotline to offer help at 1-866-458-0058.

Contributing: Sam Penrod

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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1. I M LDS 2
Provo, UT,
April 14, 2014

She has lived with this gruesome secret for 18 years?

Dante could not conjur a more horrible vision of hell!

2. Informed Voter
South Jordan, UT,
April 14, 2014

She has now told police what she did. Unimaginably bad. But how is this different from doctors doing partial birth abortions where a viable baby is partly born and then killed by the doctor? They should be arrested as well as this woman.

3. Seldom Seen Smith
Orcutt, CA,
April 14, 2014

If she would have killed all the fetus a couple weeks before they were born, it's a woman's right, pro choice, but wait until they are born, it's murder.

Our country has no cultural norms, America is disintegrating.

4. K
Mchenry, IL,
April 14, 2014

She was parenting children. They were alive and well.

She was having children and killing them, or at least improperly handling their remains in the case of admitted still birth. This was not the act of a woman who didn't want to be pregnant. That is what abortion is for. This is the not the act of someone who didn't want to parent. That is was adoption is for. This is the act of a mentally ill person. Thankfully all has been discovered and will keep future children safe, respectfully bury the remains, and once again be reminded of how anyone is capable of anything.

There are quite a few cases like this. I feel sorry for her. I would hate to be capable of such an awful thing. Why are people capable of such things? It is far too easy just to label someone as bad or evil. It doesn't make a person safer. It doesn't change a bad or evil person.

5. Lilalips
Attleboro, MA,
April 15, 2014

Children, for thousands of years, have been expendable in one form or another. Whether they were "exposed" as in many ancient societies, or aborted, in recent years, their interests give way to the adults around them. I believe the problem is getting worse as people believe more in finding their own pleasure and less in a God who will bring justice in this life or the next. If we recognize the divinity in humanity then life has purpose and meaning. Without that meaning, this woman simply exercises her "choice" to simplify her own existence. I don't see much difference between her and a thousand other women who get abortions because a baby would be inconvenient. A few short weeks or months, being inside her body, makes any difference? I think not.