Published December 12, 2012
GREENVILLE, S.C. – A South Carolina judge decided against prison time for a woman who left her newborn near death in the toilet of a sports arena after giving birth during the circus.
Jessica Blackham was sentenced to a year of home confinement and three years of probation Wednesday after pleading guilty to infliction of great bodily injury to a child.
The newborn baby was likely in the toilet for 90 minutes and was near death before he was found by a cleaning crew in the stall filled with blood and other gore. His head was barely above the water and his body temperature was 85 degrees, prosecutor Betty Strom said.
Blackham, who has an older daughter, said she never knew she was pregnant for a second time. She said she doesn't remember giving birth in the cramped stall while her friends and family texted to see if she was OK as she missed the second act of the circus in February 2011.
Blackham brought her 4-year-old daughter to the stall with her, but texted her family to take the girl from the bathroom because she was having stomach problems, Strom said.
Judge Ned Miller asked the 26-year-old mother, who had no prior criminal record, why she never asked for help.
"I don't know. The only thing I can think of is I didn't realize what was going on or because of my loss of blood I wasn't thinking clearly," said Blackham, who added she was told in the hospital she nearly died from the blood loss from injuries she suffered giving birth.
Blackham graduated from a private Baptist high school and had a job at Kmart before her arrest.
She went to a doctor the next day because she was heavily bleeding.
Miller, who took time out from hearing guilty pleas in crack cocaine and methamphetamine cases to hear Blackham's plea, took about 90 seconds to consider his sentence.
"Miss Blackham, you are not standard fare up here and I think your attorney's assessment that you will not be back is accurate," Miller said.
Prosecutors made no recommendation for a sentence to the judge. Blackham faced up to 20 years in prison.
Blackham was given a five-year prison sentence, but she won't serve it as long as she successfully completes her home confinement and probation. She also was ordered to get counseling and face random drug tests.
The baby is developing normally and Blackham gave up her parental rights to him, authorities said. She has joint custody of her older daughter.
South Carolina has a "safe haven" law that allows mothers to leave newborns in safe places such as a hospital or doctor's office without being prosecuted.
Blackham apologized before she was sentenced.
"I love my son dearly. And it kills me to know in the first few crucial moments of his life I was unable to provide him with the care that he needed," Blackham said. "I thank God somebody was there to save him, save his precious life."