DADE CITY — The judge stared down at the stick-thin woman in glasses. Orange jail garb sagged on her body.
"I've been back and forth about what to do with you," Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa said.
Earlier this week the judge had listened to a psychologist testify about 31-year-old Tawnya Jo Hines, who had stuffed her newborn daughter, Angel, into a cabinet to die in 2004. She had suffered at the hands of an alcoholic father and schizophrenic mother, the doctor said, and was left mildly retarded after being hit by a truck at age 5.
Other testimony was equally dark and troubling: Hines had been sexually abused by her brother, and state agents removed her 2-year-old son from her parents' home, where the floor had holes, roaches crawled the walls and a gun sat out in the open.
After being charged with the murder of her baby, Hines underwent years of examination. On Tuesday, she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. She had no deal worked out with prosecutors, so her fate was left in the hands of Siracusa. She faced a maximum of life in prison.
On Thursday, the judge spared Hines prison time. Though prosecutors complained that she had never expressed remorse for the crime, Siracusa sentenced her to 30 years probation.
"Taking into consideration everything that's happened to you, I'd like give you the second chance you didn't give Angel," he said. "Or you didn't get from anyone else."
Hines, who had wept during the lawyers' closing arguments, remained dry-eyed during the sentencing. On the way out she waved a cuffed hand at her public defender, Violet Assaid.
Siracusa called the case "confusing" and decided to depart from sentencing guidelines based on Hines' background and the fact that she would benefit from mental health treatment.
The state had asked for at least 21 years in prison; Hines' attorney asked for 10 years of probation.
During her probation, Hines must submit to all law enforcement searches, must not abuse drugs or alcohol and must notify the state Department of Children and Families if she gets pregnant. Her lawyer said she is on birth control pills and would agree to being barred from having children, a condition Siracusa said he couldn't legally impose. Hines must not be alone with children and must get permission from parents or guardians in advance of having any supervised contact with children.
Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia objected to the sentence and noted that it was not remarkable that Hines had obeyed all orders.
"Prison is a great motivator," Garcia said. Despite Hines' background, he said, no one forced her to abandon her baby on June 2, 2004.
On that day, Hines gave birth to the girl on the bathroom floor of her boyfriend's mobile home in Wesley Chapel. She wrapped the baby in a towel and stuffed her in a cabinet, where the baby died of suffocation and abandonment.
Hines, who has an IQ of 67, was found by doctors to be competent to face trial and sane at the time of the crime.
Public defender Assaid said Hines can be rehabilitated.
"She has people who want to help her," she said.
Siracusa ended the sentencing hearing with a warning.
"Mr. Garcia is right," he told Hines. "Prison is a great motivator. See to it you are motivated."