AUSTIN (KXAN) — On the second day of testimony in Althea Johnson’s trial, the mother of four was seen in a recorded interview with police confessing to giving birth in her bathroom, then putting her newborn in a dumpster.
Prosecutors played the audio recording from Johnson’s initial interview on-scene with lead Detective Lee Knouse and a video recording of a sit-down interview at Knouse’s office a couple of weeks later.
Initially, on October 25, 2017, when the baby was found in a dumpster near Johnson’s apartment, Johnson could be heard telling Knouse that her heart broke for the baby, but she didn’t know much about what was going on.
When Johnson was interviewed again at Knouse’s office on November 6, 2017, she confessed to putting the baby in the dumpster. She initially said she just put the baby in a bush, but when Detective Knouse told her he had evidence proving that wasn’t true, she admitted to putting the baby directly in the dumpster.
In opening statements, Johnson’s attorney said she did not know she was pregnant and had no recollection of giving birth, adding that her mind shielded her from the traumatic experience.
In the interview with police, Johnson detailed being in pain the night before she gave birth, then waking up, going to the bathroom, “freaking out,” and giving birth. She told Knouse she was alone when she gave birth. She said all of the other people in her apartment were sleeping.
Johnson could be heard telling Knouse that for a second, she prayed someone would be able to take care of the baby.
After the confession video was played to the court, Johnson’s attorney, Krista Chacona, questioned whether detectives might have pushed Johnson too hard, forcing her to confess.
The defense suggested that the baby’s father and Johnson’s ex-boyfriend, Xavier Swanson, who was at the apartment that October morning, could have done it. The judge, however, did not let defense attorneys focus on that argument, because he says there’s no evidence to support that claim.
Detective Knouse also said that both Swanson and Johnson’s mother, Lenthoria Ousley, had suspicions that she was pregnant while she was carrying the child. When Ousley took the stand, she said she wasn’t suspicious because Johnson was showing, but because she’d had a dream about her daughter being pregnant.
Ousley told the court she’d confronted her daughter, asking if she was pregnant at least twice, and both times Johnson said no, then later told her mother she’d had a period.
In Ousley’s testimony, she also gave background on Johnson’s previous pregnancies, saying she’d had a lot of complications while carrying her children in the past. Ousley also told the court in one previous pregnancy, Johnson didn’t know she was pregnant until she was rushed to the hospital in pain and gave birth.
According to Johnson’s defense attorney, Ousley legally adopted the baby and Johnson’s second youngest child, and she’s also raising Johnson’s two other children.
On Tuesday, jurors heard opening statements and listened to 13 testimonies, most of which came from witnesses or first responders, about the day the baby was found.
Johnson is charged with child abandonment and is facing up to 20 years in prison if she’s found guilty.
KXAN’s Jacqulyn Powell is live tweeting updates from the courtroom.