MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee woman who confessed to police that she tried to steal a baby by killing a pregnant woman and cutting out the full-term fetus was sentenced Thursday to life in prison with no chance of parole.
Annette Morales-Rodriguez, 34, was convicted in September of two counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the deaths of 23-year-old Maritza Ramirez-Cruz and her fetus. According to trial testimony, Morales-Rodriguez was distraught over her inability to give her boyfriend a son, had already pretended to have two miscarriages and was faking a third pregnancy when she devised a plan to abduct the woman, carve the child from her womb and pass it off as her own.
The convictions carried mandatory life sentences, so the only question for Judge David Borowski was whether Morales-Rodriguez would be allowed the possibility of parole. Wisconsin does not have the death penalty.
Morales-Rodriguez didn't testify during her trial, and her defense attorneys, who didn't deny that she attacked Ramirez-Cruz, didn't call any witnesses. Instead, they argued that the 2011 deaths of Ramirez-Cruz and her baby were reckless but not intentional because Morales-Rodriguez didn't mean for the victims to die.
They urged jurors to convict her of the lesser charge of first-degree reckless homicide, which carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison. Instead, jurors convicted her on the original charges.
A key piece of evidence during the trial was a videotaped police interview in which Morales-Rodriguez described her attack on the young mother. She admitted luring Ramirez-Cruz to her home, bludgeoning and choking her into unconsciousness, and then using a small blade to carve out the fetus.
In the video she is seen sitting at a desk in a small interrogation room, sobbing, sniffling and occasionally covering her face with her hands. Her voice is generally unwavering, but she pauses frequently and sighs heavily.
Morales-Rodriguez described how she went to a Latino community center and found Ramirez-Cruz, a mother of three in her 40th week of pregnancy.
Morales-Rodriguez told police she offered the young woman a ride and then took her to Morales-Rodriguez's home, where Morales-Rodriguez bashed the pregnant woman in the head with a baseball bat and choked her until she passed out. She said she then put duct tape over the younger woman's mouth and nose and wrapped a plastic bag around her head. She then used a small blade to slice Ramirez-Cruz open from hip to hip and pulled out a stillborn boy.
In a 911 call played for jurors, Morales-Rodriguez frantically told a dispatcher that she had just given birth to a baby who wasn't breathing.
In the ensuing investigation and autopsy, a medical examiner found evidence that the baby wasn't the product of a natural birth. A subsequent examination verified Morales-Rodriguez hadn't given birth.
Police later found the victim's disemboweled body in Morales-Rodriguez's basement.
Morales-Rodriguez told investigators she was "sorry for the girl" and never meant for the baby to die.
Ramirez-Cruz's husband, Christian Mercado, had moved his family to Wisconsin from Arecibo, Puerto Rico, about two years ago. He testified that he kissed his wife goodbye on the morning she disappeared and told her he loved her.
He called her a few hours later because he was worried because about pain she'd been having. It was the last time they spoke.