Local News

Spring Lake woman pleads guilty to killing infant daughter

Posted December 6, 2010 10:39 a.m. EST
Updated December 6, 2010 6:52 p.m. EST

— A Harnett County woman was sentenced Monday to at least 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to killing her 11-month-old daughter three years ago.

Johni Michelle Heuser, 28, of 1680 Ray Road in Spring Lake, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 141 to 179 months in prison.

The plea spared Heuser from facing the death penalty.

Deputies found the remains of Harmony Jade Creech in her mother's attic on Oct. 20, 2007. The baby had been wrapped in a plastic bag and stuffed in an empty diaper box.

Heuser initially claimed the baby had been abducted, prompting a statewide Amber Alert. The baby's father, Sgt. Ronald Creech II, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, had returned from a 15-month deployment in Iraq at the time of the incident.

When confronted by investigators after the remains were found, Heuser told them that she found the child dead in her crib between Aug. 31, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2007. She said she feared being blamed for the death, so she made up the kidnapping story, even knocking a screen out of the window of the nursery to create the appearance of a break-in.

The baby's body was so badly decomposed that medical examiners have never been able to determine a cause of death. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Deborah Radisch noted that the baby's medical history included neglect, but she said her examination of the remains "does not differentiate death from a natural disease process, such as pneumonia or SIDS or from a non-traumatic external means, such as asphyxia."

Ann Ross, a forensic anthropologist at North Carolina State University, also examined the remains and also couldn't find a cause of death. Still, she said she believed the probable cause was chronic starvation.

Radisch said her findings were inconclusive as to whether the baby was malnourished or starved.

Harnett County District Attorney Susan Doyle said in a statement that she agreed to the plea deal because of the uncertainty regarding the cause of the baby's death. Creech agreed to the plea agreement, Doyle said.