Defense begins case in trial for mother accused of leaving newborn in dumpster


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The defense team for Althea Johnson called two witnesses to testify Thursday, before the judge heard arguments on whether certain evidence will be allowed in trial for the mother accused of leaving her newborn baby in a dumpster. 

On October 25, 2017, a homeless man dumpster-diving at the Mira Vista Apartments at 9601 Middle Fiskville Road found the baby girl. The newborn baby survived. 

On Thursday, Gilbert Harris — one of Johnson’s roommates at the time — and a former boss who hired her to cook at a local hotel both testified on behalf of Johnson’s character, her role as a mother and whether they knew she was pregnant. 

“We were family trying to look out for one another and we were trying to get better,” Gilbert Harris, one of Johnson’s roommates at the time, testified.

Harris said he and his wife returned to their apartment after a date night out after 2 a.m. on Oct. 25, 2017. He said when they got home, most everyone was asleep and he did not hear Johnson giving birth. He also testified that Johnson did not tell him she was pregnant. 

In the week or two prior to the birth, both witnesses testified that Johnson’s behavior had changed. 

“She was functioning, but it was like she was on autopilot,” Harris said. 

“She’s there, but she’s not there, you know, like she’s preoccupied and I felt at that time there was a wall between us,” added Jennifer Larose, Johnson’s former boss. “She usually smiles a lot. She is very talkative and now she’s like nothing.” 

Larose said Johnson was a reliable employee. 

“I don’t have to be there and I don’t have to see what’s going on because I trust her that she will do her job,” the woman testified. 

The day before Johnson gave birth, Larose testified that she was told Johnson left work early because she was complaining of pain. Even still though, she finished her work, then went home. 

When cross-examined by the prosecution, Larose testified that when she asked Johnson whether she wanted any more children, Johnson replied that she didn’t. 

On the second day of testimony, Johnson was seen in a recorded interview with police confessing to giving birth in her bathroom, then putting her newborn baby in a dumpster.

According to an arrest affidavit and first responders’ testimony at the beginning of the trial, Johnson initially told police that she was on her period and was last pregnant a year before. She blamed the blood found in and around her apartment and on her clothes on a heavy menstrual cycle. Later, she admitted that the baby was hers and she had first left her in some bushes and then put her in the dumpster.

Johnson was arrested and charged with second-degree felony abandonment of a child a couple of weeks after the baby was found in the dumpster. She was 27 years old at the time of the arrest.

Johnson could face 20 years in prison if a jury finds her guilty of child abandonment.

KXAN Reporter Brittany Glas is in court and will have updates on the testimony at 6 p.m. Follow her tweets below

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