In a stunning turn to a sensational case, prosecutors dropped murder charges yesterday against an Ocean City woman in the death of her pre-term baby last week but charged her with killing a full-term infant she gave birth to several years earlier, authorities announced.
While in custody on the earlier charge, Christy L. Freeman, 37, told a police detective that she had given birth to twins several years ago and let at least one drown in the toilet before stowing it beneath her bathroom sink, according to police charging documents.
"Freeman stated she took full responsibility for what she did," Ocean City Detective Vicki L. Martin wrote in the statement of charges.
Public defender Burton Anderson, whose office represents Freeman, declined to comment yesterday. Freeman has pleaded not guilty to the new murder charges, a spokeswoman for the public defender's office told the Associated Press.
National attention focused on the family-oriented resort town last week when police found a stillborn baby wrapped in a blanket in the bathroom of Freeman's apartment.
Later, they found the skeletal remains of three tiny bodies - including dead twin babies - in and around her home.
Police initially charged Freeman with murder in the death of a baby born at 26 weeks, and Worcester County State's Attorney Joel J. Todd said he would prosecute her under a 2005 statute that criminalizes the killing of a "viable fetus."
That law explicitly excludes an expectant mother from criminal responsibility in the termination of her pregnancy, however, prompting legal experts to question the viability of the murder charge.
Before being denied bail Monday, a visibly frightened Freeman - a taxi driver and mother of four - told a judge that she wanted to "clear my name in this case."
Police say she confessed that day to giving birth in 2004 to a baby she let die. The state's attorney's statement says the baby was born in 2003.
"Freeman gave birth to Twin One while on the toilet," Martin wrote, summarizing the interview. "Freeman let Twin One fall into the water and did not remove Twin One from the water until it was dead."
She then wrapped the baby in a towel and placed it under the sink, according to the statement. Later, "when her family was not around," she put the corpse in a bag and "placed the bag outside under the snowplow," according to charging documents.
Yesterday, the medical examiner's office in Baltimore told Ocean City police that the skeletal remains of the twin in question "are consistent with that of a full-term or near full-term infant," the charging documents say.
Police have said that they found the remains of twins in a trunk in Freeman's house, which she shares with her longtime boyfriend and her children.
A fourth package of tiny human bones was found in a Winnebago parked outside, authorities said.
Asked by Martin whether "Twin One" was alive when she gave birth, Freeman initially told police that she "didn't know" and "didn't check," according to the documents.
"I asked if that was because it meant nothing," Martin wrote. "Freeman replied, 'Yes.'"
During a subsequent interview, Freeman told police that the baby had been born alive, Martin said in her statement.
Freeman told Martin that she had agreed to talk to the police for the sake of her four children.
"I am doing it for my kids, so you will leave them alone," she said, according to the charging documents.
Freeman has been charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of the first twin, the state's attorney said in his statement. Additional charges relating to the second twin and the other remains found could follow, officials said.
Additional autopsy results from the medical examiner's office are expected next week, police said.
Authorities are examining about 20 bruises found on Freeman's body to determine what caused them and whether they are linked to the stillbirth this summer.
Boyfriend not charged
Freeman's boyfriend, Raymond W. Godman Jr., has not been charged, and Police Chief Bernadette DiPino said he has been cooperative.
Godman has not spoken publicly since Freeman's arrest and has been staying in motels and with friends around town, said Bob Apy, a driver for Classic Taxi, the cab company that Godman and Freeman founded in 2002.
Since Freeman's arrest, Apy and other Classic Taxi drivers have been threatened and harassed, and their cars have been vandalized, he said.
Apy said that as of yesterday, the company - which shuttled tourists and local residents in cars from the 1950s and 1960s - is no longer operating.
Legal experts said yesterday that they weren't surprised that Todd, the longtime prosecutor, dropped the initial murder charges, which would have relied on a 2005 statute that extended state murder laws to the intentional killing of a "viable fetus."
Todd has said that he believes Freeman caused her 26-week-old fetus to be stillborn, but the viable-fetus statute explicitly excludes from criminal responsibility "an act or failure to act of a pregnant woman" in connection with her own fetus.
"The statute couldn't be clearer," said Baltimore attorney Andrew D. Levy, who teaches law at the University of Maryland. "It doesn't apply to a woman and her own fetus. You don't need a law degree to conclude that."
Levy said it appears that Todd had acted "precipitously" in issuing the initial charges. The prosecutor declined to explain his initial charges, which prompted commentary from those on both sides of the abortion debate because Todd essentially was charging with murder a woman who he said induced a late-term abortion.
"It's a reasonable question to ask" about the shift in charges, Levy said, "and as a public official he has an obligation to explain it at some point."
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said the new murder charges against Freeman should be easier to prosecute.
"Prosecutors much prefer to proceed under a conventional murder charge than a viable-fetus statute," Turley said, because of the controversy surrounding the latter. "They are viewed as one of the battlegrounds over Roe v. Wade."
"The other thing is that a full-term baby is a much more compelling victim to bring before a jury. So it's not a surprising move."
If Freeman goes to trial on the new murder charges, Turley said, there will be a "horrendous battle over whether the other fetuses will be allowed" into evidence.
"The prejudicial impact of introducing the other fetal remains would be overwhelming for the defense," he said.