Ohio Supreme Court Decides Convicted Baby-Killer Should Get Reduced Sentence

On Thursday, the Ohio Supreme Court ordered a new sentencing hearing for a former Muskingum University student convicted of murdering her newborn baby.

A 4-3 ruling by the court found that Emile Weaver was not adequately represented by defense attorneys during her murder trial in 2016, when she was 21 years old when a Muskingum County judge sentenced her to life in prison without parole. Her sentencing determination was reapplied to a new Muskingum County judge for reconsideration.

The court found that Weaver’s counsel failed to explain that neonaticide, the killing of an infant within 24 hours of birth, is not a “deliberate act, but rather one done under extreme panic.”

“Not only did the trial court misunderstand the evidence pertaining to neonaticide and pregnancy-negation syndrome, but it also demonstrated a willful refusal to consider it,” wrote Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.

Court records indicate Weaver gave birth on April 22, 2015, after denying her pregnancy repeatedly. Her sorority sisters discovered the baby in a trash bag next to the Delta Gamma Theta sorority house in New Concord later that day. She delivered the baby into a toilet.

Weaver testified at her trial that she was in denial about her pregnancy and thought the baby was dead before she placed her in the trash bag. The prosecution alleged that the child died from asphyxiation after being placed in the trash bag by Weaver.

Judge Mark Fleegle sentenced Weaver to life without parole in May 2016 after a jury convicted her of aggravated murder, abuse of a corpse, and tampering with evidence.

In May 2021, Weaver petitioned the court for postconviction relief, arguing that her lawyers had not accurately described neonaticide.

According to O’Connor, Fleegle and his defense attorneys ignored an “uncontradicted expert opinion” provided by a doctor during the trial in an “arbitrary manner.” Weaver matched the criteria for pregnancy-negation syndrome, a clinical syndrome that increases neonaticide risk, according to court records.

“During the birthing experience, women with pregnancy-negation syndrome will experience a dissociative state in which they feel as if they lack control over their behavior and as if they are merely observers of the events passing before them, not participants,” the court wrote in summarizing the doctor’s testimony.

O’Connor authored the majority opinion for the Supreme Court, which reversed the Fifth District Court of Appeals’ decision dismissing Weaver’s claims that her counsel was ineffective. Justices Melody Stewart, Michael P. Donnelly, and Jennifer Brunner joined her opinion.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice R. Patrick DeWine argued that Weaver’s defense at trial was that her baby died of natural causes. It undermines the claim that she didn’t kill the baby to incorporate the pregnancy-negation syndrome argument into the equation.