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Judge accepts Lindstrom’s plea: Attorney: Mother may have been unconscious when baby died

Stephanie Lindstrom of Bowman, N.D., sits alongside her attorney, Erica Chisholm, on Tuesday, at Stark County Courthouse. At the hearing, Judge William Herauf accepted the plea agreement with Lindstrom pleading guilty to negligent manslaughter. (Katherine Lymn / Forum News Service)

DICKINSON, N.D. — A Bowman woman charged in the death of her newborn may have been unconscious when her infant drowned in a bathroom, a state’s attorney said Tuesday.

A judge accepted a lesser charge for Stephanie Lindstrom during a hearing at the Stark County Courthouse because of her medical condition when the crime occurred. Lindstrom was originally charged last summer with murder after prosecutors said she gave birth to a baby and drowned it in a home bathroom.

Bowman County State’s Attorney Andrew Weiss said the state lessened the charge because when faced with details from Lindstrom’s medical state over the days she was in the bathroom — she likely passed out — it could not prove its case by showing her state of mind.

“I can’t do it, your honor,” Weiss told Southwest Judicial District Judge William Herauf.

Lindstrom had pleaded not guilty to murder, a Class AA felony that carries a maximum of life in prison without parole.

But last week in a deal with the state, she pleaded guilty to negligent homicide, a Class C felony with a maximum of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Herauf had conditionally accepted the new charge at a Feb. 11 hearing, but Tuesday’s hearing was added to the court calendar because he needed more information.

The medical report showed it was “very plausible” that Lindstrom passed out, which “frustrates the state’s case,” Weiss said.

“If there’s no consciousness, there obviously cannot be culpability for a crime, your honor,” Weiss said.

Lindstrom had suffered an infected placenta, according to the medical report. Over the 2 1/2 days she was holed up in a bathroom sick, she ate and drank little. She suffered renal failure, which led to confusion and high creatinine levels, and likely had septic shock.

Neither she nor her boyfriend knew she was pregnant, according to testimony from a September preliminary hearing.

At that hearing, held in Bowman County, Bowman Police Chief Charles Headley said that the day before police came to the house to help persuade a gravely ill Lindstrom to visit the hospital, her boyfriend and mother looked through the bathroom doorway and saw blood that appeared to have been wiped up and Lindstrom on the floor wrapped in a blanket.

Her boyfriend then tried to enter the bathroom to clean up but she ordered him not to come in, Headley said. The baby’s body was discovered only after Lindstrom was coaxed into visiting the hospital July 23. Lindstrom’s boyfriend and mother reported finding the baby’s body just hours after Lindstrom went to the hospital.

In accepting the plea deal Tuesday, Herauf made note of the gravity of the case, as family and friends of Lindstrom lined the back bench.

This was a “very sad and troubling case,” he said, adding that he understood why the state had to change the charge.

The court will next conduct a presentence investigation, which will inform Herauf’s sentencing of Lindstrom.