AUSTIN (KXAN) — The trial for a mother accused of leaving her newborn in a dumpster began Tuesday after jury selection took place Monday.
Althea Johnson could face 20 years in prison if the grand jury finds her guilty of child abandonment.
On October 25, 2017, a man named Dwayne Bouie was dumpster diving at the Mira Vista Apartments at 9601 Middle Fiskville Road, when he found the baby girl in a dumpster there.
On the stand Tuesday, Bouie had trouble keeping his composure as both the prosecution and defense asked him to recall finding the newborn.
Several first responders were also called to the stand. Firefighters, paramedics and Austin Police Officers recalled the baby girl having a blueish tint to her skin when she was barely breathing, with a low heart rate and an extremely low temperature.
Firefighters and paramedics said they worked together to put the baby on a machine that could breathe for her, while doing chest compressions all the way to the emergency room. A couple of firefighters say they continued the chest compressions as they rushed her into the ER at Dell Children’s Hospital.
Multiple first responders said the newborn was so cold that they worked to warm her body with a blanket, a beanie and heating packs the entire way to the hospital.
Once there, a pediatric emergency nurse told the courtroom that the baby’s temperature was so low that it wouldn’t even read for quite some time. By the time the baby was moved to the NICU, the nurse said her temperature was measured at 74.4 degrees.
Meanwhile, back at Johnson’s apartment complex, first responders and crime scene technicians on the stand said they traced a trail of blood from the dumpster where the baby was found to Johnson’s front door.
Police told the courtroom once they were inside the apartment, they found what appeared to be blood in Johnson’s master bedroom and bathroom, where they believe she gave birth. Investigators said they believe Johnson cleaned her bathtub after the baby was born to try and remove evidence of the childbirth.
Both the prosecution and the defense said there were several other people sleeping in the apartment at the time Johnson gave birth, who had no idea what was going on.
“The evidence in this case will show that Althea Johnson concealed her pregnancy. She didn’t want anyone to know,” said State Attorney Kathleen Morgan in her opening statement. “In the early hours of a cold October morning, she gave birth alone in her bathroom. She knew the baby was alive. She saw her eyes open, saw her math open, but before she’d make a sound, before she cried, Althea Johnson got one of her dresses and wrapped her up and took her outside. She made the choice to start walking, and with each step she chose to go towards the dumpster.”
Johnson’s defense attorney, Krista Chacona, said in her opening statement that was only half of the story.
“Althea Johnson unexpectedly gave birth, because she did not know that she was pregnant,” Chacona said to the jury, continuing, “Ladies, I know. That is hard to believe. But, I expect you will hear expert testimony to tell you that not only is that possible, but it’s not as uncommon as you think.”
Chacona went on to assert that Johnson has no recollection of giving birth to the baby.
“I think the evidence will show that her mind is actually shielding her from these memories,” Chacona said, calling the experience traumatic for Johnson.
According to an arrest affidavit and first responders’ testimony, 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. Her bond was set at $60,000 but in February 2018, it was halved to $30,000.
According to the prosecution and defense, the baby girl is doing well now. She was placed in custody with family. Johnson has three other young children, who were also placed with family members after her arrest.
KXAN’s Jacqulyn Powell is following the trial from the courtroom. Follow her live tweets here: