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Thriller Thursday: Newborn Killers and the Inequality of Justice

Due to this post from Roni Loren (thank you for the warning, Roni) I’ve decided to remove most photos from Thriller Thursday. I hope you’re still able to enjoy them!

For every family like my own, who struggled with infertility, there are dozens of unwanted children born to parents who are either unwilling or incapable of caring for them. Most states have safe haven laws (known in some states as Baby Moses Law) where a child can be left safely at a fire station without the repercussion of criminal charges. Many desperate parents choose to use this life-saving options.

Others kill. And the justice system can’t see fit to treat them equally.

Kathryn Burton

In 1997 in Marysville, Ohio, 23-year-old Kathryn Burton delivered her third child, a boy, in a rusting bathtub of her small home. She told investigators the baby came quickly and she made no noise during the birth. The newborn wiggled his fingers and toes, and then Burton killed him. Police believe she struck his head against the tub.

Burton hid the baby under the bathroom sink while she dug a hole in the backyard and then buried the infant.

Burton was caught because she eventually had to go to the doctor for her bleeding and it was obvious she’d given birth. She finally confessed and told investigators where she buried the baby, but when they searched her yard, the infant was gone.

A second confession came: Roger took the baby. A married man, Roger Long lived across the street and allegedly only had sex with Burton once. He claimed she tried to hide the pregnancy but he was suspicious.

He found out what Burton had done three days after the baby boy was killed. He dug up the child, put him in a 2-gallon plastic bucket, and brought him home.

Long told investigators he reburied his son in the countryside. He led them to the spot, and sure enough, there was the pale skinned infant.

Kathryn has a low I.Q. and an eighth-grade education. She lived in squalor with relatives, including her two previous children. Some claim she was a victim, citing her low I.Q. and dire circumstances, and a part of me agrees. The woman and her living children clearly needed help.

Burton was sentenced to 15 years to life. Her first parole hearing was this month, and she was denied. She’ll stay in jail until at least 2020. Long was sentenced to 18 months in jail for obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence.

Should Kathryn be in prison for life? The harsh part of me says yes, she killed a child. How can there be any extenuating circumstances? But surely Roger Long should have more culpability than he’s been given. He knew what he was doing when he had sex with her, and if he thought she was pregnant, he should have stepped up. Instead, he left her alone, in deplorable conditions, and did nothing. At age 38, Kathryn could be released under orders to become sterilized, for she isn’t a threat to anyone else in society. But will justice have been done?

Melissa Drexler

Labeled “The Prom Mom” by the media, 18-year-old Melissa Drexler delivered her baby in a restroom stall at her high school prom on June 6, 1997. She pulled the baby out of the water, cut the cord on the serrated edge of the sanitary napkin dispenser, wrapped the baby in garbage sacks and threw it away. Then she returned to the dance.

One student later noted that Melissa seemed to be enjoying herself at the prom.

A janitor responded to reports of blood in the restroom and then found the trash bag. Emergency workers spent two hours trying to resuscitate the infant, but it was too late. The autopsy determined Melissa had choked the baby and smothered him either with her hands or with the plastic bag.

No one at Lacey Township High School in Forked River, New Jersey knew Melissa was pregnant. I’m not sure how a five foot seven inch, 130 pound high school girl does that, but it’s apparently possible.

Drexler plead guilty to aggravated manslaughter on August 20, 1998 and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, the maximum sentence. Melissa read the following statement to the court at the time of her sentencing:

“I knew I was pregnant.
I concealed the pregnancy from everyone.
On the morning of the prom my water broke.

While I was in the car on the way to the prom, I began to have cramps. I went to the prom and I went into the bathroom and delivered the baby.

The baby was born alive. I knowingly took the baby out the toilet and wrapped a series of garbage bags around the baby. I then placed the baby in another garbage bag, knotted it closed and threw it in the trash can.

I was aware of what I was doing at the time when I placed the baby in the bag. And I was further aware that what I did would most certainly result in the death of the baby.”

Melissa Drexler was released on parole after serving just over three years.

Now, how is it that a legally consenting adult, with no apparent disabilities, who admits she knew what she was doing and clearly had time to change her course of action, only serves three years while someone like Kathryn Burton is still in prison?

I’ve no doubt both women knew what they were doing was wrong, but what Drexler did is every bit as deplorable as Kathryn’s actions. I’m appalled this woman was released after just three years. Her case, in my opinion, screams of pure selfishness.

What do you think? Should Melissa Drexler have served more time? Is Kathryn Burton serving too much? Should there be a universal law regarding infanticide?

Kathryn Burton – source.
Melissa Drexler – source and source.
Thanks to Catie Rhodes for the topic. 

25 comments on… “Thriller Thursday: Newborn Killers and the Inequality of Justice”

  1. This breaks my heart. I don’t have any answers to any of your questions. I just pray that God provides the necessary comfort and punishment.

  2. Wow, Stacy. Isn’t murder murder, regardless of the person’s age? And the killer’s gender? This is the first I’ve learned about these women and I have to say… Based on this post, it seems unfathomable that they’d get off at all, much less so fast.

    • I agree. The only extenuating circumstance, IMO, would be mental incapacity. It makes NO sense to me that Megan Drexler is out when of the two, she is more of sound mind. I can’t truly reconcile that Kathryn be release but it makes no sense that she remains in jail while Megan is out. IMO, Megan is more likely to commit a second murder.

  3. Murder is horrible, regardless of the victim, but when I hear of a mother killing their own child, particularly an absolutely helpless newborn, my stomach turns.

    Something tells me the difference between sentencing of these two has a lot to do with their “station” in life.

    • I feel the same way, Amber. It sucks and it’s wrong, but people judge based on looks and station, and it’s hard not to think this is exactly what’s happened here.

      The idea of harming a child is just something I can’t envision. It’s simply awful. How does a person live with themselves after that?

  4. I can’t imagine the horror of killing your own child — particularly a helpless newborn. I agree with you that three years for Melissa is not enough for so wilfully, callously taking a life. I also agree that Kathryn was in dire circumstances, but even those with a low IQ and an 8th grade education should know that murder is wrong. Our justice system is supposed to stand up for even the most helpless among us (or more especially the helpless among us), and that definitely includes children.

    • I agree on all accounts. In Kathryn’s case, I really feel the father of the baby needed more culpability, even if it was legally impossible. He virtually allowed this to happen, and he took complete advantage of her. That said, she still knew what she did was wrong. But Melissa Drexler’s freedom blows my mind.

      Thanks for your comment.

  5. Stacy, I agree with other comment here, that the Prom Mom terrified me more. Who DOES that? What is missing from her makeup that she would do that? How horrible. The other case is sad as well, and with such a low IQ you have to wonder if she truly knows right from wrong.

    • I agree, Donna. Something about her – the fact that she went back out and dance (and what first time new mom could do that?) is so damned cold. I just can’t get over it.

      As for Kathryn. I think she did know right from wrong or she wouldn’t have hid it. Still, the two of them weren’t treated as equals.


  6. I agree with Amber that the two women you profiled got differing sentences because of their differing socio-economic statuses.

    I suspect desperation and fear led these women to do what they did. I don’t believe it excuses what they did. However, I would be very curious about the thought process that led them to believe this was the best/only option they had.

    Did they think they wouldn’t get caught? What did they think would happen if they did? Or did they just not think that many steps ahead? I am aware that the more scared you get, the less rational and logical your thought process becomes.

    I find it interesting that women like Susan Smith and Andrea Yates got life sentences (or the near equivalent). Susan Smith’s children were 14-months-old and 3-years-old. Andrea Yates’s children ranged from seven-years-old to six-months-old. My point is that there is apparently stiffer sentencing for killing older children. Or multiple children? I dunno.

    Anyway, these cases are disturbing. It is notable to me that the newborn murders happened in 1996-1997. There is also another case involving a couple named Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson that happened either in ’96 or ’97. I wonder if Baby Moses laws went into effect sometime soon after that. You don’t hear about stuff like this happening that much anymore. (However, maybe one of the differences is that we now live in a world where it has become glamourous for 16-year-olds to become mothers.)

    The last thing I’ll say is this: Did you know that in ancient times in certain parts of the world it was a common practice to bury newborn female infants?

    • I was going to do Amy and Brian, but the post was getting long. And yes, I think the safe haven laws might have gone into effect after this.

      I could be totally wrong, but something about Megan’s story strikes me as she just didn’t want to bother with it – any of it. The shame, the responsibility, the interruption in her life. It just seemed she wanted to throw it away and move on.

      That’s very true about Susan Smith and Andrea Yates. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone who kills a single child gets anything other than life. As you said, maybe it’s the multiple murders, but that seems wrong. A helpless life is a helpless life.

      And no, I did not know that about the priests. Very interesting.

      Thanks for the topic and stopping by!

  7. Should there be a uniform law regarding infanticide? No — we don’t really have any uniform laws anywhere. It probably should be a uniform charge, like manslaughter. These stories make me sick. A girl that we didn’t even know was pregnant delivered a baby in the high school bathroom our senior year. Luckily for her, she didn’t try to kill it. Maybe she would have, but she didn’t really have the opportunity considering other students told the teachers what was going on.

    The first story seemed a bit more malicious than the second. The second girl sounded like she was just distraught and embarrassed, not sure what to do in the moment — trying not to ruin her life (but she should have thought about that sooner….). I’m glad she served time, but I think maybe 3 years for her was plenty.

    I love the safe haven laws. I wish more states participated…

    • You’re right – charge is the better word. It seems there should be a mandatory, minimum charge and sentence nationwide.

      I can’t imagine delivering a baby in a bathroom. I know young girls are scared and what not, but still, there’s no excuse. And I have little sympathy when it’s so easy to get birth control.

      Really? I feel just the opposite. I think they were both malicious, but there was something so cold about the second girl … just set wrong with me.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  8. beverlydiehl

    Actually, I have a great deal of sympathy for Andrea Yates (who you didn’t yet profile). She was clearly out of her gourd – and she and her husband had been warned that the hormonal effects of too many pregnancies too close together was making her that way. Yet her husband (who, presumably, *was* in his right mind) continued to knock her up. I understand now she is on meds and is totally devastated by what she did. While he has divorced her and remarried.

    I believe there is MUCH more mental illness going on than most people realize. There are the homeless people walking around on the street talking to the sky, and there are the psychopaths like Ted Bundy and apparently, this Drexler girl, who seem normal on the surface, but are clearly missing a piece of ?empathy? ?soul? Then there are the paranoids like George Zimmerman and Timothy McVeigh, and the schizos like Jared Loughner.

    That said, it is MUCH more likely for someone with mental illness to be the victim, rather than the perpetrator of a crime. But when somebody is mentally ill, putting them in prison doesn’t “teach” them anything.

    • Yes, I chose not to profile Andrea because there are so many extenuating circumstances with her. While I can’t fathom what she did, as you said, she and her husband had been warned (more than once, if I remember correctly) about the post partum effect. I’ve heard the same, that she’s on meds – something her husband should have sought for her. That whole story is a tragedy all around.

      And I agree on the sociopaths/psychopaths – there are many more around us. I think missing empathy and a conscience is a big part of the problem. It’s frightening.

      Absolutely. IMO, it seems Kathryn at least had more of mental illness than Megan, who definitely needed after therapy. And I’d be willing to be she didn’t get it.

      Thanks for stopping by:)

  9. Kelly Johnson

    Should Melissa Drexler have served more time?


    Is Kathryn Burton serving too much?


    Should there be a universal law regarding infanticide?

    No. Existing laws apply in both cases. I do think that the justice system is already overly harsh when it comes to mothers. There may well be mental health issues (I’m thinking of Andrea Yates) at play. For some reason society expects every woman who gives birth to automatically be a loving mother. While those are lovely sentiments, it isn’t reality. We need some common sense in our justice system. Melissa Drexler

    • That’s an interesting point. Many women aren’t interested or geared for having children, and that’s perfectly acceptable – although not always recognized. However, it’s hard for me to be sympathetic to someone like Melissa Drexler when birth control is so easily available. I feel the same way about Kathryn, to an extent. Agreed on common sense – we need some of that every where.

      I’m assuming your comment got cut off and you’re not signing as Melissa Drexler. Thanks for stopping by.

  10. Wow. Sad stories to see women sink to those levels. I couldn’t help agree that in the first story, maybe a psych evaluation would have been appropriate when looking at sentencing. In the second story, I can’t believe she is OUT already. Insanity. I don’t understand why we have sentencing and then parole people after serving so little. You do the crime, you should do the time…period. Whether they behaved “well” in jail or participated in a hundred program (which they should anyway) that shouldn’t grant them less time. They knowingly did the crime and should serve the sentence that was given.
    I know I am much more bias after my own experience so…take it with a grain of salt! LOL!

    • It is very sad. I agree about the psych eval on the first, and I also think the county should have been on that woman much earlier. If she and her kids were living in squalor, something should have been done.

      And I KNOW. I read that and just got sick. IMO, Melissa is the type who would commit another crime. Maybe not, but she’s far more likely, and I don’t see how the sentence matches what she did.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  11. All these years later I am still baffled as to how Melissa was able to give birth alone, to a first child, at 18, in the bathroom, go back out to the prom without being in excruciating pain and bleeding out! I’ve given birth 5 times and this strikes me as impossible, but I digress….she should have spent the full 15 years in prison. I am curious to know if she has any children today…

    • Me too! I don’t know how she was able to walk, let alone make it through that alone. Yes, she absolutely should have. As for kids today, I don’t think so, but I can’t say for sure. Thanks!

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