WRAL Investigates

Despite guilty plea, mom maintains innocence in baby's death

Posted December 6, 2010
Updated December 7, 2010

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— At birth and even in death, tiny Autumn Naimi's health left many questions. The 3-month-old Jacksonville girl died at an Apex home in October 2009.

“She was 2 pounds, 10 ounces, and she was about 15 inches long. So, you could hold out your hand and her head would fit in the palm when she was born,” Autumn’s mother, Nicole Richards, said.

Autumn had a heart defect, a thyroid problem, and Richards says she was to be tested for a genetic growth disorder. Richards says life was touch-and-go for the little girl from day one.

“I had to be First Aid certified before she could leave the hospital. The doctor told me she could stop breathing at any time,” she said.

At 3 months old and weighing just 9 pounds, that's exactly what happened.

“She was asleep. I laid her down on her back,” Richards said.

But Apex police said they don't believe that. They arrested her at the funeral and charged her with involuntary manslaughter.

The woman Richards was staying with gave a conflicting statement saying Richards put the child on her stomach, which Richards would know was dangerous given the child’s weight and inability to hold up her head.

“We’re absolutely sure we did the right thing,” said Apex police Capt. Ann Stephens. “The D.A.’s office is sure they did the right thing. We would not charge a mother with the death of her child if we didn’t have compelling evidence to believe she was involved.”

Police say Richards also exchanged odd text messages with the woman on the way to the hospital. They would not make those records available.

Questions still surround baby’s death Questions still surround baby’s death

Apex police say Richards later admitted to putting the child on her stomach, which Richards denies.

“The only time Autumn ever laid on her stomach was when I was right there with her,” Richards said.

An autopsy came back inconclusive with a possible cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Richards remained in jail for one year without ever being formally indicted by a grand jury. Then, prosecutors offered her a chance to walk free if she pleaded guilty, which she took.

“Being in jail is torture,” Richards said, explaining her decision to take the deal.

Richards also has cervical cancer and three other children whom she can't have custody of now. Still, it was a way out of jail, she said. Richards is now talking with an attorney to have the plea overturned.

“The child pretty much fought for her life every day. It was a constant battle that never ended until the day she died,” Richards said.

She knows her word against someone else's may end in the same result, but Richards said she wants someone to take another look at the autopsy, the health history and the text messages.

48 Comments

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  • shortcake53 Dec 7, 2010

    I know bailey, its a wonder ANY of us above the age of 40 ever survived. Nowadays you cant feed your baby, lay them down a certain way, or use cribs anymore. How ever did we make it?

  • bailey109 Dec 7, 2010

    I have raised six children, the youngest is now 19 yrs old. I suppose I should've been jailed as well, everyone of my kids slept on their stomachs.

  • delilahk2000 Dec 7, 2010

    ONE MORE THING, THE GRANDSTANDING BY DOING THE ARREST DURING A FUNERAL IS PATHETIC, AND SHOWS JUST HOW MUCH LACK OF RESPECT THE POLICE AND THE DA. HAS.........

  • delilahk2000 Dec 7, 2010

    MY KIDS WERE LAID ON THEIR STOMACH A LOT WHEN THEY SLEPT. TO THIS FEMALE COP, IT MUST BE NICE TO BE THE ALL KNOWING AND THAT YOU HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS AND EVERYONE ELSE IS A LIER BUT YOU. YOU ALSO TOLD THE NEWS YOU KNEW FOR A FACT THAT THE WOMAN WHO TESTED POSITIVE FOR DRUGS......FYI, YOU CAN EAT A POPPY SEED BAGEL AND SOME MEDS WILL TEST POSITIVE FOR DRUGS. NO WONDER PEOPLE ARE LOSING RESPECT FOR THE LAW WITH PEOPLE LIKE HER AND THEIR CLOSED MINDS.....YOU ARE NOT RIGHT ALL THE TIME, NOR THE DA......

  • UPTOP Dec 7, 2010

    sounds like the prosecutor jumped the gun, must have been election time !! The funeral home !! come on.. camera's had to have been near by !!

  • ccacrabbitdog Dec 7, 2010

    wildcat.........she pleads GUILTY........THEREFORE SHE IS GUILTY.............maybe its god way of saying stop having babies...........

  • tran Dec 7, 2010

    If the police and prosecutors had evidence, why didn't they charge her and put her on trial? Instead, they dangled a plea bargain in exchange for her release.

    A year in jail without charges violates habeas corpus and the right to a speedy trial.

  • G-man Dec 7, 2010

    If you plead guilty you are guilty in the eyes of the court and give up all rights otherwise available to someone that pleads not guilty. She sat in court because the DA had no evidence. But she could have forced their hand by filing a motion for a speedy trial.

  • antb Dec 7, 2010

    I agree with mileage! How horrible!

  • MileageDontTakeYourKidsCrap Dec 7, 2010

    "But Apex police said they don't believe that. They arrested her at the funeral and charged her with involuntary manslaughter"

    What a disgusting move on the part of Apex police.

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