Woman pleads no contest in dead infant case | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Woman pleads no contest in dead infant case

Christina Proctor

More than seven months after the discovery of her infant son’s remains in her car trunk, Maria Liddell pleaded no contest Wednesday to voluntary manslaughter.

“I don’t believe the evidence establishes the crime of voluntary manslaughter,” Public Defender Rick Meyer told the court.

Meyer said he was stipulating to the plea pursuant to “People vs. West.” The case reference states that the defense can agree that the court can make a finding of guilt, based on police reports and records, to protect the defendant from a trial where he or she might face more serious consequences.

Liddell, 21, originally was charged with first-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

The maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter – the intentional unlawful killing of a human being without malice – is 11 years. The court can also grant probation if special circumstances are found.

Before entering the plea Meyer agreed to withdraw a motion to suppress the press and public from pretrial evidence suppression hearings. The court also unsealed the suppression documents. Meyer argued that Lake Tahoe’s jury pool of around 12,000 was small and pretrial publication of evidence that might be suppressed could prejudice potential jurors.

The Tahoe Daily Tribune filed an opposition to the suppression motion based on the First Amendment and several landmark cases. The opposition argued that secrecy for any aspect of a criminal proceeding is an extraordinary measure and can only be warranted after a careful and reasoned analysis finds no other alternative can protect the defendant’s fair trial rights.

The defense was seeking to suppress Liddell’s statements to South Lake Tahoe police investigators before her arrest and the search of her car. Meyer contented that police conducted a warrantless entry into the trunk of Liddell’s vehicle.

The defense also claimed that officers violated Liddell’s Fifth Amendment rights against self incrimination by failing to advise her of her Miranda rights. According to the Miranda case, statements obtained from a custodial interrogation are inadmissible in court unless the defendant was advised of their rights. At the time of police questioning Liddell was not in custody or under arrest.

The story began back in February when Liddell’s red Volkswagen Bug was towed from a snow removal zone on Sonora Avenue.

The tow truck driver told police he noticed an unusual odor coming from the vehicle when he unhooked it at the tow yard. The following day the driver reported it to his manager, who called the police. Two days after the car was towed police contacted Liddell at her work at Heavenly Ski Resort.

In the “Declaration and determination,” or probable cause for warrantless arrest, Detective Martin Hewlett said Liddell admitted to giving birth to the child in the bathroom of her mother’s home in Concord, Calif., in June of 1996.

“She wrapped the infant in a towel covering his face and body,” Hewlett said. “She concealed the child in a basket of laundry.”

Hewlett said Liddell estimated that she had the baby wrapped inside the towel and hidden in the laundry for about 90 minutes while she cleaned up the bathroom and tried to sneak out of the house.

“During this time she told no one, did not seek medical attention, or provided assistance to the child,” Hewlett said.

After she exited the house with the laundry basket and child, she placed it in her car and drove around the block. Hewlett said Liddell then retrieved the child from the basket and found it dead.

“At this time she wrapped the child with the laundry she used to clean up the afterbirth and placed the items into plastic bags,” Hewlett said. “She placed the bags into a suitcase and then wrapped the suitcase into plastic bags. She advised that she wrapped the child in this manner because she did not want her mother to smell the child.”

Investigators said Liddell moved to South Lake Tahoe during the winter of 1996 for school and employment purposes.

El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Jerald Lasarow commended both the district attorney’s office and the public defender’s office for their work on the case.

“I think you’ve reach a fair settlement,” Lasarow said.

Liddell’s sentencing is set for Nov. 19 at 1:30 p.m.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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