Gov. Walz favors freeing woman who drowned her baby

Gov. Walz said he's "not certain" that a woman who admitted to drowning her baby should remain in prison. The governor's pardons board will likely commute her sentence soon.

Left: Samantha Heiges; Right: Gov. Tim Walz

The Minnesota Board of Pardons may move to commute the sentence of a woman who drowned her own baby shortly after it was born in 2005.

Samantha Heiges, now 35, was 19 when she killed her infant child 17 years ago. She claims she was involved in an abusive relationship at the time, and that her boyfriend threatened to kill the baby himself if she did not. For this reason, she pleaded not guilty during her trial that concluded in 2008. However, because she was convicted of second-degree murder after making a not guilty plea, she faced a much stiffer penalty than she would have if she simply accepted guilt and opted to take a four year plea deal she was offered.

Now, the pardons board is re-weighing the facts of Heiges’ case to decide if the 13 years she’s served is enough.

“At this point, at this far down in your sentence, I’m not certain that I believe society is served well by you being separated from your daughter,” Gov. Tim Walz said when considering the case. Walz chairs the pardons board and was referencing Heiges’ other daughter whom she did not kill.

“We believe you’re going to be successful and you’re going to make this work and society is better served,” the governor continued, heavily suggesting that Heiges’ sentence will be commuted so she can take a more active role in her teenage daughter’s life.

The other members of the board, Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea and Attorney General Keith Ellison, also made statements in favor of a commutation, per MPR. The board will vote on Heiges’ fate as soon as mid-December.

Flashback

When Heiges was on trial, many commentators and outlets doubted that she had no choice but to kill her child.

The Pioneer Press, for example, highlighted how a detective took a strong role in leading the woman to state that her life was at risk if she didn’t kill her baby, apparently as part of an interrogation tactic to coax a confession. A confession was a key element of this case as the baby’s body was never found.

The Pioneer Press reported:

“Pfaff — who does the overwhelming amount of talking on the recordings — repeatedly walks Heiges through her recollection of the events, goading her with a mix of flattery, empathy and leading questions.
Here’s a guy who said, ‘You get rid of the baby or I’ll get rid of the baby,’  the detective says to Heiges in the recordings. ‘You were under a huge amount of stress, young lady … and now you’ve got a guy who was (threatening) and pushing you, standing over you. He said, ‘Kill the baby or I’ll kill you.’ Is that fair to say? … He said, ‘Put her in the water or I’m going to kill you.'”

The Star Tribune reported similar facts after Heiges was convicted, noting that the couple had agreed together to kill their child before she was even born and that both Heiges and her boyfriend knew of a law that allowed them to leave the infant at a hospital up to 72 hours after birth and face no penalty — but they did not choose this course of action.