WRAL Investigates

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

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.

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APEX, N.C. — 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.

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.



Kelcey Carlson, Reporter
Kelly Hinchcliffe, Web Editor

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