Local News

Woman Pleads Guilty to Leaving Newborn at McDonald's

Posted April 25, 2007 4:23 p.m. EDT
Updated April 25, 2007 8:27 p.m. EDT

— A Wendell woman pleaded guilty Wednesday to abandoning a newborn at a McDonald's in December.

Michelle Richardson, 27, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child abuse. She was sentenced to 45 days in jail, which was suspended in favor of five years on supervised probation and 150 hours of community service.

Richardson also was ordered to complete parenting classes and therapy.

Surveillance video inside a McDonald's in Zebulon captured Richardson on Dec. 7. Police said she carried the newborn into the restaurant under her jacket, then left the infant boy in a bathroom stall.

A customer found the baby a short time later. The child remains in the custody of Wake County Department of Health and Human Services.

"She is very sorry, and there's really no explanation for the decision that was made," defense attorney Jeff Cutler said Wednesday. "Fortunately, there was no harm done to the baby."

Richardson told authorities after her arrest that she tried to leave the baby at the Wendell Fire Department and a church before taking him to the McDonald's. She said she thought she was complying with the state's Safe Surrender Law by leaving him in a safe place.

The Safe Surrender Law allows a mother to give a newborn to a responsible adult and walk away. The child must be 7 days old or younger, and the adult then has to call 911 or social services.

The law doesn't define a responsible adult, but adoption groups suggest a fire station, hospital or church.

Richardson said the past four months have been "very productive" as she tries to move past the incident.

"(I'm) pursuing goals I have set out for myself," she said. "I can't really say what's been going on, but I take it one day at a time and move forward."

Cutler said she has an implanted birth-control device to prevent unwanted pregnancies. The baby was her sixth child.

"She's doing everything she can to make sure nothing like that ever happens again," Cutler said.

Prosecutors asked for a court order to mandate continued birth control for Richardson, but District Judge Shelley H. Desvousges said such an order would be unconstitutional.

"I do strongly encourage you to do that, but I will not make it an order," Desvousges said.

Richardson initially was charged with two felonies in the case. Prosecutors dropped a felony child abandonment charge and reduced the child abuse charge to a misdemeanor.