A New Mexico teen mother was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Monday for throwing her newborn son into a trash dumpster behind a shopping center, but a state district judge suspended two years of the sentence due to mental health concerns and the defendant’s age.
Following a days-long trial last month in which her public defender argued her actions were not premeditated and that a previously undiagnosed mental health disorder played a role, jurors convicted Alexis Avila, 19, of child abuse involving great bodily harm.
Judge William Shoobridge told Avila that if it hadn’t been for luck and the grace of God, he would have been deliberating a mur*der sentence, as there was a good chance the child would have died if it hadn’t been discovered that winter day in Hobbs, near the Texas border.
Avila told the judge that she wants to learn how to cope with stress and anxiety, and that she regrets missing her son’s first milestones.
“I regret his first hours of life were traumatic, and I regret that he will always have this in the back of his head and will think I do not love him because that’s what he’ll read and hear,” she continued. “But that is not the case. I adore him. I truly believe it.”
Avila was apprehended in January of 2022.
According to police, a group of people were looking through the trash bin when they discovered the baby and attempted to keep him warm until police and paramedics arrived. Surveillance video was used by investigators to identify a car suspected of being involved, which led them to Avila.
Avila’s public defender, Ibukun Adepoju, denied that she planned to ki*ll her baby. Avila’s actions were wrong, according to Abepoju, but they were the result of her bipolar disorder, and she was disassociated and detached from her feelings.
“Now Alexis will be about 34 years old when she gets out of prison,” Adepoju said in a statement following the sentencing. “We’re trying to work with the prison to ensure she has access to therapy and education while incarcerated, so she can have a meaningful life when she gets out.”
According to CBS affiliate KRQE, Jack Hancock, a licensed clinical social worker who has worked with Avila, testified about her “persistent mental health issues” during the trial.
They also called Avila’s mother to the stand, who stated, “This is not an action she would have taken if she had been in her right frame of mind,” according to the station.
Avila’s case sparked new debate in New Mexico communities and among legislators about the state’s safe haven law, which allows parents to leave a baby under 90 days in a safe location without facing criminal charges. In response to reports of baby ki*llings and abandonment, such legislation was first introduced in state legislatures in the early 2000s.
In 2022, New Mexico lawmakers approved legislation to expand the state’s Safe Haven Program and fund the construction of one baby box in each county where an infant can be left.
Boxes have also been installed in a number of other states. Florida is the latest to consider legislation that would allow for the boxes.
Avila’s sentence comes just days after a Minnesota woman was sentenced to 27 years in prison for abandoning her newborn son near the Mississippi River two decades ago. Jennifer Matter was sentenced to life in prison on Friday for second-degree mur*der.