US baby snatcher sentenced to 12 years

2012-07-31 11:01


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New York - A woman who snatched a 3-week-old baby from a New York hospital in 1987 and brought her up as her own daughter until being caught last year was sentenced on Monday to 12 years in prison.

Ann Pettway was mentally ill and distraught over repeated miscarriages when she dressed up as a nurse and kidnapped Carlina White from Harlem Hospital on 4 August 1987, Judge Kevin Castel said.

But in passing sentence, the Manhattan federal judge said she had "inflicted a parents' worst nightmare".

Earlier in the emotional court hearing, Pettway, aged 50, told the tearful biological parents of White that she was "deeply sorry".

"I'm here today to right a wrong," she said in a brief statement to a courtroom filled with her family members and those of White, the two groups sitting on opposite sides.

But that wasn't good enough for White's parents, who spoke movingly about the agony of having their newborn vanish, then of 23 years of sorrow and now the anguish that continues to overshadow their joyful reunion last year.

Not home yet

"I'm broken into a million pieces," the mother, Joy White, said, describing how her daughter has yet to disentangle her identity after being raised by another woman.

"My daughter's here, but she's not home yet," she said.

The father, Carl Tyson, looked fiercely at Pettway when he made his own statement to the court. "For 23 years, Ann, you had me suffering. You put a stone in my heart," he said.

The young woman at the centre of the tragedy, Carlina White, was notably absent from the packed courtroom - but she was in every heart.

During the mother's comments, Pettway turned her eyes away, yet she looked Tyson right back in the face as he castigated her.

"I know you have your family and friends here," he told Pettway, who wore steel-rimmed round glasses, a white hair band and a dark blue prison smock. "But they don't know what you've done to me."

Tragic plan

Afterwards, Tyson said he thought the sentence of 12 years prison and three years probation was too light. "I wanted 23 years," he told reporters outside the courtroom.

Pettway, then 26 years old, had suffered three miscarriages and was deeply depressed when she came up with her tragic plan, Castel said.

After taking the 19-day-old infant home, she gave her a new name and lied to her about her identity as she grew up surrounded by Pettway's other relatives.

White, now aged 25, became suspicious and eventually contacted the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, which confirmed her true family through a DNA test.

White and her parents were reunited last year. Pettway was arrested and pleaded guilty to kidnapping.

Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said Pettway had "shattered three lives - the life of the child who would not know her parents, and the lives of her parents who were left to wonder what had become of their baby.

"While this sentence certainly cannot compensate them for what they lost, it is our sincere hope that they can repair the breach that was caused on that terrible day."

In his closing remarks, Castel said simply: "Ms Pettway, Ms White, Mr Tyson, I hope the healing can begin."

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