PHILADELPHIA – A woman convicted of kidnapping an infant during a fire, then raising the girl as her own for years, was sentenced Friday to nine to 30 years in prison.
In court, Carolyn Correa (search) publicly accused birth father Pedro Vera of helping her commit the crime, a charge he denied after the hearing.
The 10-day-old girl disappeared from her crib during a December 1997 fire at her parents' Philadelphia home. Lacking a body, fire investigators concluded that the fire had consumed the newborn.
"Pedro gave me the baby," Correa, 43, of Willingboro, N.J., told the judge. "I loved her as my own. ... I truly believed she was mine."
Defense lawyers argued that Correa suffered from a psychotic condition in which women believe they are pregnant (search), and came to believe the baby was hers.
Prosecutors said she willfully deprived Vera and the girl's mother, Luzaida Cuevas, of their child's milestones — from crawling to talking to starting school — for six years.
Judge Pamela Dembe (search) said she had concluded that while Correa suffered from some depression, she was more manipulative than delusional.
Correa briefly apologized in court Friday for "the confusion" she caused the two families. The judge found the sentiment far short of any acceptance of the magnitude of her crime.
"You robbed a small girl of a very great deal," Dembe said.
The judge acknowledged that who — if anyone — helped Correa remains unknown. Investigators believe there was a second person because the child disappeared from an upstairs crib while Correa was apparently downstairs with Cuevas. Vera was not home at the time.
Prosecutor Leslie Gomez said there is not enough evidence to make a case against anyone else.
Correa pleaded no contest in February to kidnapping, interference of child custody and conspiracy.
The girl, Delimar Vera (search), now 7, was reunited with her parents in March 2004, after Cuevas' suspicions led to DNA testing that proved the child's identity. Cuevas had spotted the girl at a Vera family birthday party — Vera and Correa are related by marriage.
Both Vera and Cuevas, who split up after having a second child together, have sued city officials for their handling of the baby's disappearance.
"We're happy now. We got our daughter back," Vera said. He called Correa's charges against him "crazy things that she's talking about."