COLUMBIA, S.C. – A jury convicted a South Carolina mother of throwing two of her newborns away in trash bags after they were born 13 months apart, but the 32-year-old mother of two other children wasn’t in the courtroom Thursday to hear the verdict.
Convicted of two counts of homicide by child abuse, Alyssa Dayvault faces 20 years to life without parole in prison on each. Circuit Judge Steven John put his sentence into an envelope, whacked it on his desk twice to settle the folded forms in deep and sealed it at the end of court Thursday. It will be read when Dayvault is found and brought to court.
Dayvault hid her pregnancies in 2017 and 2018 from everyone, including her boyfriend and her mother, gave birth at her North Myrtle Beach home alone then put the newborns into trash bags and threw them away, prosecutors said.
Authorities said they didn't have evidence Dayvault strangled or suffocated her children. Dayvault told police in taped interviews that her daughter was born with the umbilical cord around her neck and died in November 2017 and she blacked out for at least 15 minutes after giving birth to her son in December 2018 and found him dead when she came to. She then panicked and threw the bodies away.
But a pathologist testified the baby boy appeared to expel meconium, fecal matter babies have when they are born, inside the trash bag. The pathologist added that showed the infant was alive when the bag was closed, slowly cutting off his oxygen supply.
"That child was alive in the trash can," prosecutor Scott Hixson said in closing arguments.
Police only started investigating Dayvault after she went to the doctor days after the 2018 birth because a tear caused by her labor became infected. After giving her a blood transfusion, doctors discovered an undelivered placenta in her uterus and when Dayvault couldn't account for the baby, the hospital called police.
Dayvault admitted to putting her son in a trash bag and tossing him out, during a confession to police. She also told investigators he had a daughter the year before and threw her away. Dayvault also has two older children she was ordered not to see without permission when she was released on bail.
Even though Dayvault skipped her trial, her lawyer put up a defense. In her closing argument, public defender Sharde Crawford repeated the testimony from the pathologist that an autopsy couldn't determine how exactly the baby boy died in 2018.
Crawford said failing to get prenatal care or hiding a pregnancy probably wasn't a good idea, but also wasn't against the law.
“She panicked. She was scared. Here was this child she hadn't told her family about because she was going to give it up for adoption,” Crawford said.
Prosecutors said they sought convictions for homicide by child abuse because Dayvault showed extreme indifference to whether her newborns lived or died. The jury deliberated less than two hours.
Prosecutors said they are looking nationwide for Dayvault, who didn't show up for any of the four days of her trial at the Horry County courthouse.
“There’s an empty seat over there. Somebody messed up," said John Matechen, the father of Dayvault’s boyfriend, who thanked jurors for doing their job and finding Dayvault guilty.
Dayvault's boyfriend was the father of both children and said he was heartbroken and stunned after finding out what had been going on the past two years.
“Hopefully with this it will be a little easier for me and my family to get through this. It is by far and away the hardest thing we’ve ever had to deal with. Justice coming to her makes it a little easier to comprehend," Chris Matechen told the judge as he considered Dayvault's sentence.
John Matechen said the family felt betrayed.
“We welcomed Alyssa into our lives with open arms. We’re a very trusting family," he said. “People often say how in the heck did you guys not know that she was pregnant? She was really, really good.”
The trial was livestreamed from the Horry County courthouse by WMBF-TV.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.