Hite gets 20 years for killing baby

'I don’t want to be seen as a threat,’ mom says as she prepares to educate women about Safe Haven laws

mug of Morgan Hite

An Alaska woman who gave birth and killed her newborn at her parents’ Grand Junction home more than a year ago hopes to one day be a spokeswoman to educate other women about Safe Haven laws and other alternatives for mothers who don’t want their babies.

During an emotional hearing Thursday, 23-year-old Morgan Hite learned she will spend the next 20 years in prison. The woman’s father, Chris Hite, and stepmother, Stacy Hite, said the family is starting a foundation in the name of her dead son, Gabriel. Morgan Hite also has a daughter, who was 4 at the time Morgan killed her newborn.

“I take full responsibility for all of the awful things that have happened,” Morgan Hite said tearfully in court Thursday, adding she is ashamed, embarrassed and sorry for her actions.

“When it’s time for me to return to the community, I don’t want to be seen as a threat. I think I will be effectively able to reach out.”

According to Colorado’s Safe Haven law, a mother may leave a baby up to 3 days old with a hospital worker at any hospital or with a firefighter at any fire department and not face any criminal proceedings.

Morgan Hite, of Wasilla, Alaska, was 22 when she was visiting her parents’ north Grand Junction home and gave birth Feb. 25, 2008, in a neighbor’s bathtub. Chris and Stacy Hite found the baby’s decomposing body about two-and-a-half months later, stashed in a tote bag in a closet in a back room.

Morgan Hite was arrested May 6, 2008, in Wasilla, and was extradited to Mesa County. The Mesa County Coroner’s Office said the baby was born alive, but Hite’s attorney, Colorado Public Defender John Burkey, said in court Thursday his client thought the baby was dead upon delivery.

Hite pleaded guilty in January to a charge of child abuse resulting in death, and prosecutors dropped several other charges, including first-degree murder. The plea agreement carried a mandatory sentence of 16 to 24 years in prison.

Mesa County District Judge Thomas Deister said Thursday he opted to sentence Hite to the midrange of that sentence after comparing Hite’s case to that of Cheyenne Corbett. Corbett was 17 when she delivered a baby that died after she hid the newborn at her parents’ home.

Corbett, now 20, was sentenced in December 2007 to 16 years in prison by Mesa County Judge Richard Gurley. Corbett could have been sentenced to 16 to 48 years in prison under the terms of her plea agreement.

Because Hite is older than Corbett and already a mother, Deister said her crime deserved a stiffer sentence.

“You made some conscious decisions that showed extreme selfishness,” Deister said. “You thought it wasn’t time for you to be pregnant, so you lied about being pregnant. ... You viewed this baby as nothing but baggage in your life that you would just store away. ... I think you
thought this child was dead because you wanted it to be dead.”

Burkey argued that psychological tests showed his client suffered from borderline personality disorder and disassociation, which accounted for her persistent lying to friends and family who questioned whether she was pregnant.

Stacy Hite said she had known for about three years that Morgan Hite needed some sort of counseling, but “she was an adult.”

Stacy and Chris Hite have visited Morgan twice a week for nearly the past year while she has been in jail. The parents said Morgan has turned to God for support and earned their forgiveness, and she has forgiven herself. They asked for leniency from Deister and that she receive counseling for mental issues.

Morgan Hite will receive credit for the 317 days she has been incarcerated. She will be responsible for court costs and costs of her extradition.

“I want you to know that we’re not making excuses,” Stacy Hite told Deister. “We did not hesitate to alert the authorities. For the past 11 months, as parents, we now know the true meaning of loving your child no matter what.”


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