MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Jurors deliberating the case of a woman who took her newborn nephew from a Wisconsin home must determine whether she was stealing the baby to pass him off as her own, as prosecutors contend, or was acting on the father’s request, as the defense insists.
The jury began deliberating Thursday in the case of Kristen Smith, 31, who admits that she took her half sister’s 4-day-old son, Kayden Powell, from Wisconsin in February and ditched the baby outside in subzero temperatures as police closed in on her in Iowa. The boy was found 29 hours later, alive and safe.
Prosecutors allege Smith had been planning the kidnapping for months. They say she downloaded other people’s sonograms from the Internet and posted them on Facebook as her own, that she bought a prosthetic belly designed to make a person appear pregnant and that she filled out a birth-certificate application for a son named Kaysin, listing the identical birth weight as Kayden’s.
But Smith testified that the baby’s father asked to take the boy for a few days as the parents prepared to move in with her in Aurora, Colo. She said she left the boy in a plastic tote at a gas station after panicking.
Smith also testified that she had indeed been pregnant. She said she miscarried twins but told no one, not even her mother or husband.
Defense attorney Matthew Noel said the government’s allegations didn’t make sense because Smith already has four children and a stepchild.
“If she wanted another child she could have had one. Obviously she’s able to have children,” he told jurors.
Kayden’s parents, 18-year-old Brianna Marshall and 23-year-old Robert Powell, were staying with the baby’s great-uncle in the Town of Beloit, Wisconsin, on Feb. 5. Smith, who gave conflicting reasons for why she was in Wisconsin, spent the night at the house.
She left about 2 a.m., saying she wanted to get back to Colorado but avoid traffic in the larger cities along the way. She testified that as she was getting ready to leave, Powell asked her to take the baby with her. She agreed, without pressing him further or waking Marshall to check with her, Smith said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Sinnott called the explanation “ludicrous.” He said it defies common sense to think that first-time parents would let someone take their newborn baby in the middle of the night, with no formula, diaper bag or clothes.
“Does it make any sense that any parent would agree to that scenario? Of course not,” he told jurors during closing statements.
Around 4:30 a.m., Marshall called Smith, frantic at her baby’s disappearance. At one point an officer took the phone and asked Smith to pull over and wait for officers to question her.
Smith testified that in a moment of panic she decided to ditch the baby while police searched her vehicle and that she planned to then return to Wisconsin with Kayden.
She repeatedly insisted to the officer that she didn’t know where the baby was. As she was arrested on an outstanding Texas warrant, she suggested other relatives may have taken him.
“That may not have been the best way for my client to handle the situation, but that doesn’t mean she’s guilty,” Noel said.
During closing arguments, prosecutors recalled Smith’s performance on the witness stand. They noted how she evaded even simple questions, saying she didn’t know where she was born and didn’t remember whether she had lived in Wisconsin in 2010 or had ever been convicted of a crime.
By Dinesh Ramde, AP Writer (© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)