GAYLORD — Investigators haven’t found a body and all they have is their suspect’s own words to describe how and where a newborn child was left to die, but that is enough to move forward with a first-degree murder trial, according to a ruling by a Sibley County judge.
Although others say they knew Amy Ann Romero, 29, was pregnant more than a decade ago, she apparently kept the secret until last year that she actually gave birth to a baby girl and left her in a woods to die in 2001.
In an alleged confession to a Missouri co-worker in August of last year, Romero told a nurse’s aide who she was working with that “she had done something really bad in her youth,” according to a document issued recently by Sibley County District Court Judge Thomas McCarthy.
The document was a memorandum attached to an order denying a request by Romero’s defense attorney, Anthony Nerud, to dismiss charges filed as a result of the alleged death.
The memorandum included details about the April 28, 2001, incident that weren’t released when Sibley County Attorney David Schauer revealed a grand jury had indicted Romero in January for first-degree murder, second-degree murder, third-degree murder, manslaughter, child neglect and child endangerment charges.
The details released by McCarthy were from evidence provided to the grand jury. Romero, formerly known as Amy Aune, was raised in the Henderson area but was living in Breckenridge, Mo., when she was arrested. She has been in jail since January, which was when she was taken into custody at her place of employment in Missouri and returned to Minnesota.
Nerud argued there wasn’t enough evidence to show a crime had even occurred or to justify Romero's arrest. McCarthy disagreed. He said there was enough other evidence, including others who told investigators Romero was pregnant around the time she said she gave birth.
Investigators first became aware of the death of the infant, identified in the indictment as Ava Juanita Aune, last August after Romero allegedly told the co-worker about the incident. Missouri and Sibley County investigators who interviewed Romero after they were told about the conversation with the co-worker also reported Romero admitted to giving birth to the child and leaving it in the woods.
She allegedly told Sibley County deputies she learned she was pregnant during a routine physical in December 2000 while she was with the Jobs Corps program in St. Paul. She was told she couldn’t be in the program if she was pregnant, so she went to a clinic in St. Paul to get an abortion. Staff at the clinic told her it was too late, the deputies reported.
Romero then decided to wear baggy clothes to hide her pregnancy and continued to work for the Job Corps. There was no prenatal care before she was given a ride to her parents’ house in Jessenland Township in late April and allegedly gave birth in her bedroom. Her family was out of the state at the time.
Investigators reported Romero said she wrapped her daughter in a towel and put her in a dresser drawer that had been placed on the floor. She also allegedly said the baby had her eyes open and had a “coal black” bowel movement either before or after she put the baby in a car and drove it to a woods.
“She took the baby, still wrapped in a towel, into the woods until she came to a clearing and found a downed log with a hole in the top,” McCarthy’s memorandum said. “She placed the baby in the hole, and heard the baby whimper as she left. She never looked back.
“She told the deputies that she had hoped that the coyotes had gotten the baby.”
The deputies also talked to Jennifer Segler, a woman who knew Romero in 2000 and 2001. She reported that she knew Romero was pregnant and the father was a man from Le Center.
Job Corps medical records also showed Romero was pregnant when she received a physical from the program. Other Job Corps records said Romero reported she had lost the baby on April 30, 2001, and staff recorded a sudden loss of weight immediately after Romero allegedly gave birth to the girl.
McCarthy’s memorandum also noted that Dr. Robert Zajac, a Glencoe pediatrician, told the grand jury that a baby’s first bowel movements would be black with a tar-like consistency. A driving route between Romero’s parents’ house and the location where the baby was allegedly left to die “matches landmarks and roadways in eastern Sibley County that were recognized by deputies,” McCarthy said.
A recent Supreme Court ruling involving a similar case from a 2005 incident in Dakota County was cited by McCarthy. In that case, a woman named Samantha Anne Heiges drowned an infant after giving birth in a bathtub at her home. She said the baby’s father threatened to injure or kill her if she didn’t drown the baby. He told investigators he wasn’t in the bathroom when the baby was born and never knew the baby was born alive. He had helped wash blood from the bathroom floor, but thought it was the result of a miscarriage.
In that case, as in Romero’s case, a body wasn’t recovered.
Heiges was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 299 months in prison. The baby’s father wasn’t charged. The Supreme Court ruling upheld the conviction.