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Mom pleads guilty in newborn’s death; Prosecutors say baby was killed moments after birth, discovered two years later

Mom pleads guilty in newborn’s death; Prosecutors say baby was killed moments after birth, discovered two years later

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Vanessa Danielle Poteat pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of her newborn son in a bathtub moments after his birth in 2014, Danville prosecutors confirmed Wednesday.

Originally charged with first-degree murder, the 26-year-old Poteat, of Ringgold, was to have a two-day trial beginning Tuesday, court records show. But she entered into a plea agreement for a reduced sentence with the Danville Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

“The plea agreement called for a sentence that was in between the sentencing guidelines,” Danville Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Petra Haskins said. “So the least amount of time she can get is 12 years and nine months.”

The most amount of prison time she could receive is approximately 21 years, Haskins added.

According to the prosecution’s written summary of evidence, Poteat told varying stories of why she did not have a baby following her pregnancy in 2014 when questioned two years later, after the newborn’s remains were discovered in the Danville home of her boyfriend’s mother.

She told police and others that the pregnancy could not be carried through to term — that the child would not survive — so she elected to have an abortion.

To the father and her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Shannon Kip Browder, Poteat initially said she went to Florida to terminate the pregnancy with help from a wealthy relative. Since they were not seeing each other for much of 2014, Browder did not know she was pregnant until years later.

To police, she said she had an abortion in various North Carolina cities. Poteat’s stories given in 2016 were inconsistent, so police reexamined the case last October. Investigators questioned her on Oct. 23, 2017, where she repeated the claim that she had an abortion in North Carolina because the child would not have survived past birth.

But police informed her they had examined the remains and found the child was carried to term. Poteat then confessed to killing the boy — and attempting to kill herself — out of fear for what her boyfriend would do to them. She told police that he had been violent in the past.

The commonwealth’s investigation did not reveal “any domestic violence that occurred on a repeat basis before the death of this baby,” the prosecution’s summary of evidence showed.

Poteat said her idea was to “go and leave together” with her newborn, according to the document.

On Sept. 20, 2014, the documents states, Poteat came home and took a bath, where she gave birth to the child in the tub. The document says she worried what the boyfriend would do when he came home, so she slipped the newborn under the bath water and held him to her chest until he stopped moving.

“Once it stopped moving she realized what she had done and she tried to get the water out of the baby but it was too late,” the document states. “She looked at the baby for about an hour, and then placed him in trash bags.”

The document says she took a number of pills and went to bed “hoping she would die.” When she woke, she put the newborn’s body in a duffel bag and later stashed it Browder’s house when the two moved in together. Browder discovered the body June 11, 2016 and called police.

While prosecutors and medical examiners were unable to determine a time of birth or time of death, they believe Poteat birthed and killed the child Sept. 20, 2014, Haskins said.

Poteat’s sentencing is set for Sept. 26, according to court documents.

James Whitlow reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact him at jwhitlow@registerbee.com or (434) 791-7983.

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