The state has dropped murder charges against a teen accused of killing her newborn daughter, and she is now awaiting her sentence on lesser charges.
Haley Brook Clark, 18, pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of cruelty to a child in the first degree as part of a plea agreement.
Her sentencing hearing was held this week, and her fate now rests with Superior Court Judge Andrew Fuller.
In December, the teen pleaded not guilty to charges of malice murder, felony murder and cruelty to a child in the first degree.
The charges stem from the July 18, 2012, death of Clark’s 9-day-old daughter, Olivia Clark. The case had been scheduled to go to trial in September.
The defense is seeking a sentence with no prison time; the prosecution, the maximum 40-year sentence, 20 of which would be served in prison.
The court is in recess until Monday as Fuller considers the sentence.
Hall County emergency medical units and sheriff’s deputies were called that summer afternoon to the 5200 block of Hopewell Lane to respond to an emergency call made by Clark’s younger brother that his niece was not breathing.
The child was taken to Gainesville’s Northeast Georgia Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead later that day.
According to Hall County Sheriff’s Office investigator Jason Egerton, Clark admitted to him, as well as other family members, that she suffocated Olivia while feeding her.
During the feeding, Clark said that Olivia was spitting up “a large amount” of milk and began crying, Edgerton testified at a September preliminary hearing. Clark, he said, then covered the child’s mouth and nose with her hand “until (Olivia) stopped breathing.”
He said Clark then found her younger brother, who was the only other person in the house, and he called their mother. Clark’s brother dialed 911 per their mother’s orders.
The presentation of evidence for sentencing concluded Thursday afternoon, with both attorneys giving their closing arguments. The lengthy days of hearings — practically mirroring a full-blown trial, the prosecution said — included testimony from about 30 of Clark’s friends and family as well as investigators and medical experts.
Witnesses for the prosecution included investigators and the couple who at one point were set to adopt Olivia.
Clark’s attorneys, Brett Willis from the public defender’s office and Weymon Forrester, a Gainesville lawyer working pro bono, asked the judge to consider mitigating factors, including Clark’s young age, testimony from medical experts disputing the infant’s cause of death, testimony to her good, reformed character from family and church leaders and assertions that her initial interviews with law enforcement were coercive.
The state, represented by Assistant District Attorney Shiv Sachdeva, disagreed that Clark should be given a lesser sentence, contending that dropping the murder charges was already a show of leniency from the prosecution.
Forrester, a medical malpractice attorney, argued there was no homicide, and that the murder charge should never have been pursued in the first place.
Sachdeva said the defense had painted Clark as the victim, and that proceedings had needlessly become an evaluation of the charges themselves, rather than what he said should be an opportunity for Clark to take full responsibility for her actions and be truthful on the stand.