18-year-old Ashkea Johnson was found guilty of first degree murder on Friday.
18-year-old Ashkea Johnson looked down and wiped away tears as a Staunton judge read the jury's verdict: Guilty of first degree murder for smothering her two-month old baby to death. "The whole situation is a tragedy" said attorney Anne Reed. "You have the loss of a young baby, and you have a young woman whose life is forever altered because of that."
On November 15, 2009, inside a North Central Avenue apartment, Johnson put baby "Rosie" on her lap and held a plastic diaper bag over her mouth until she stopped breathing. Exactly one week before that incident, she tried to do the same thing. Prosecutors called that Johnson's "practice run," because she "wanted Rosie gone".
Friday evening, jurors re-watched an hour-long videotape in which Johnson confessed to the killing. Reed acknowledged the tape's significance, "It was certainly key, because with a smothering of an infant - a suffocation - there really isn't physical evidence that can be obtained." Johnson's defense argued a police investigator led the then-17-year-old mom into a confession. The jury didn't agree.
Following Friday's verdict, the case now moves into a sentencing phase which could take several months. The judge will have a range of options since Johnson was 17 – a minor - at the time of the murder. "She could be sentenced as a juvenile. She could be sentenced as an adult, or she could remain a combination sentence," explained Reed. If Johnson is sentenced as an adult, the first degree murder conviction carries life behind bars.
In addition to the first degree charge, the jury also found Johnson guilty of a lesser degree: Second degree attempted murder for the first incident.