(Washington Post) – Cyndee Johnson was at work in a Roseville, Mich., recycling plant when she spotted the infant body moving toward her on a conveyor belt in January.
“It just grabbed my heart,” she said in court testimony reported by Click On Detroit. “I knew something wasn’t right. He was like in a curled position, curled up like he was trying to be warm, and there was a little bit of debris on him.”
And then it hit her.
Johnson said she screamed, ‘That’s a real baby, stop the line, stop the line. That’s real baby!”
The baby was already lifeless when Johnson and her co-workers discovered him last January, among the detritus — the newspapers, bottles, cardboard — they picked through everyday. He was bundled in a black T-shirt that camouflaged him amidst the items in the sorting line.
A medical examiner determined that he died from hypothermia.
At first, CBS reported, authorities had trouble confirming the boy’s identity, suspecting that he was a missing child from nearby Lansing. But then they started hearing from friends and relatives of Angela Alexie, a recently pregnant 25-year-old.
At trial in Macomb County Circuit Court on Wednesday, Alexie stood accused of bringing upon her son a hideous fate: after giving birth to him in an unheated garage three days before Christmas last year, prosecutors allege, she left him there for several days and allowed him to die.
Three weeks later, Alexie allegedly placed the infant in a garbage bag outside. It remains unclear how his body ended up at the recycling plant.
The mother of three, all of whom are in foster care, is charged with felony murder and first-degree child abuse.
Alexie’s attorney, Steve Kaplan, believes that his client suffers from “cognitive challenges,” the Associated Press reported.
According to the AP, Kaplan told jurors that she should be convicted of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
During opening arguments on Wednesday, Assistant Prosecutor William Cataldo was unforgiving in his assessment of Alexie.
“To Angela Alexie, that wasn’t a child, it was a dirty little secret,” Cataldo said, the Detroit Free Press reported.
He accused Alexie of a history of abandonment, noting that she is not involved in her other children’s lives. Because Alexie did not want yet another child in foster care, Cataldo alleged, “she let this child die” because she considered him “a road block to her social life.”
Cataldo said that after Alexie cut her umbilical cord with her teeth, she hid the baby on the ground behind a mattress while she stayed in the house to which the detached garage belonged.
Shortly after the baby’s birth, she sent her friends selfies of her “weight loss,” the prosecutor alleges.
Alexie claims she checked on the baby every couple of hours, and even attempted to breastfeed him. Ultimately, she said, she was too injured to surrender the child at the fire department. (Under Michigan’s safe haven law, newborns no more than 3 days old can legally be handed over to a staff member of a hospital, fire station, or police station.)
“My client acted in a reprehensible way,” Kaplan said, the Free Press reported. “I’m not saying she’s a hero. Did Angela Alexie knowingly create a risk of great bodily harm? She’s guilty of many things. She’s not guilty of felony murder.”
Alexie never named her son; his death certificate simply reads “John Doe.” At a funeral held by members of the community, he was unofficially christened Henry Alexander Macomb, after the county’s namesake.
MLive reported that Henry was laid to rest in a small white casket no bigger than a toolbox, with a heart sticker that read “cherished and beloved.”
The gathering was attended by local residents who had learned of the death in the news. Many of them were parents themselves.
“It’s almost like you have a pit in your stomach, like he’s one of your own,” Linda Martymiuk, a mother of two adult sons, told MLive.
Another mourner, Judy Minor said: “The first time I heard about it, I became attached. I couldn’t have children…I just felt a connection somehow, some way, I can’t explain it — spiritual.”