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14-year-old who killed her newborn doesn't deserve a life sentence

October 22, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
Last month a 14-year-old Lakeland, Florida girl gave birth to a 9 1/2 pound baby boy in secret in the bathroom of her home and then reportedly strangled him and hid him in a shoebox buried in a pile of dirty laundry.

According to news reports, Cassidy Goodson, who hadn't wanted anyone to know she was pregnant, is being charged with premeditated first degree murder and aggravated child abuse. She could get up to life in prison (probably less, since the Supreme Court has ruled that life without the possibility of parole for juveniles is cruel and unusual punishment.)

According to the Associated Press story, Cassidy's mother was in denial and had reportedly let the girl take two pregnancy tests alone, to preserve her privacy. Someone in the family must have had an inkling that a baby was on the way for her mother to even purchase the pregnancy tests, but no one pushed Cassidy to talk or offered to take her to someone who could offer help.

No one was there to help this kid when she gave birth, either. Cassidy put a towel in her mouth and ran water in the bathroom to muffle any sounds she made during labor and pried the baby out with scissors. Her mom was home at the time and apparently didn't bother to knock on the door or ask why her daughter was spending so much time in the bathroom. The mother took Cassidy to the hospital afterwards for bleeding, but Cassidy said she'd suffered a miscarriage. It was only a few days later that Cassidy's mother found the body of her grandson in the dirty laundry and the girl's secret was revealed.

Clearly this is a horrific story and there is a lot of blame to go around. No mention is made of the baby's father, but I would hope authorities are investigating just how a 14-year-old became pregnant. It sounds like supervision might have been a problem in the home as well.

Florida requires parental consent for an abortion, but Cassidy likely would have been able to get a judge to grant approval to get an abortion without telling her mother. Other options abound. How many thousands of childless couples would have loved to adopt that baby? Most states have safe haven laws that would enable a young mother like Cassidy to abandon her baby at a hospital or police or fire station with no questions asked.

Yet, with all the options out there, this 14-year-old either didn't know about them or didn't have the ability to access them. Maybe it would have taken an adult or an unusually mature teenager to be clear-eyed about her situation and make choices rationally. Teens who do navigate teen pregnancy successfully seem to have more family support through the process than Cassidy apparently did.

These are all reasons why I continue to have an enormous problem with trying juveniles as adults. Brain research shows that the brain isn't fully adult until the mid-twenties and, in adolescents, the part of the brain that handles decision making and impulse control is not fully developed. That's clear in the way that Cassidy, a young teen, reacted. She said she didn't tell her mother because she didn't want her relationship with her mom or her family to change. She hid her son's body in the laundry like other kids might hide a stolen piece of contraband candy.

This is not a crime that warrants life imprisonment. I am ashamed that the draconian legal system even makes it a possibility. I'm not sure what the punishment for this crime should be, but I hope this kid has a darned good lawyer


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