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Wesley Chapel woman pleads guilty in newborn's death

DADE CITY — Tawnya Jo Hines is a 31-year-old woman who has the mental capacity of a second-grader. She was born to an alcoholic father and a schizophrenic mother. At age 5, she was struck by a truck when she chased the family dog into the street, suffering severe head injuries.

When she was 13, her parents got into a fight and her mother fled with Hines and her siblings, hitchhiking as far as Georgia. For five years, she suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her brother, which only stopped when she told a friend who reported it to authorities. Her parents never intervened. The brother is now in prison.

In 2003, Hines lost custody of her 2-year-old son because of the deplorable conditions where she lived with her parents — holes in the floor, roaches on the wall and a gun left out in the open.

And on June 2, 2004, Hines gave birth to a baby girl on the bathroom floor of her boyfriend's mobile home. She wrapped the baby, named Angel, in a towel and stuffed her in a cabinet, where the newborn died of suffocation and abandonment.

On Tuesday, Hines pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. She had no deal worked out with prosecutors, so her fate was left in the hands of Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa.

As he listened to a psychologist describe one trauma after another from her life, Hines cried silently and dabbed her eyes with a tissue.

The hearing stretched into Tuesday night as both sides presented experts to weigh in on Hines' fate. She faces a maximum of life in prison. Her attorney is asking for probation, including intensive mental health treatment.

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.

Psychologist Scot Machlus said Hines remains in denial about ever having been pregnant or giving birth, but understands the charges against her. He says she is mildly retarded.

Following her horrific childhood, he said she continued the damaging patterns as an adult. Machlus testified that Hines got involved with abusive boyfriends again and again.

Why, asked Assistant Public Defender Violet Assaid?

"It's what she knows. It's what she went through as a child," Machlus said.

But Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia called another psychologist who disputed that Hines is mildly retarded.

Peter Bursten said Hines lied to several people about her pregnancy, including her family and boyfriend, Joseph Eleuterio, who found the baby's body.

"I think she was very deceptive," Bursten said.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at or (727) 869-6245.

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Wesley Chapel woman pleads guilty in newborn's death 04/20/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 9:52pm]
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