Testimony to begin in newborn death trial

Nearly three years after a Salvation Army store employee discovered the body of a newborn in a trash can, testimony will begin Tuesday in Rolling Meadows in the trial of the woman prosecutors say killed her baby minutes after giving birth.

She's a petite 22-year-old from Hanover Park named Jessica Cruz, who prosecutors say strangled her full-term, 6 pound, 11-ounce baby boy on Nov. 4, 2011, in one of the Streamwood store's employee restrooms.

Charged with first-degree murder and concealment of a homicide, Cruz could face up to life in prison if convicted of what prosecutors described as “exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty.”

Cruz — mother of a then 16-month-old — hid her pregnancy, did not seek prenatal care and did not tell anyone she had delivered the baby, prosecutors indicated in motions included in the court file. They say Cruz intentionally killed her baby because she didn't want him.

Prosecutors acknowledge that since her incarceration at Cook County Jail days after her arrest, Cruz has been diagnosed with depression, panic disorder, agoraphobia and borderline personality disorder. However, court records also indicate a doctor did not find Cruz was insane at the time of the offense.

Documents do not indicate Cruz's attorneys will mount an insanity defense. They say Cruz, who has no criminal background, never planned to kill the baby. Citing psychological studies, defense attorneys say Cruz fits the profile of women who've been accused of killing their newborns. Younger than 25 and emotionally immature, these women tend to be single and live with their parents, according to court documents. They are also in denial to the extent that when they deliver, these women perceive the birth as if it's happening to someone else, court filings show.

In court filings, Cruz's attorney, Cook County Assistant Public Defender Deana Binstock compared a woman in denial to “an ostrich putting its head in the sand to ignore the inevitable.” Being in “severe denial suggests the opposite of any type of purposefulness,” Binstock wrote in her motion suggesting Cruz did not act with intent or premeditation.

According to a May 2013 report by clinical psychologist James P. Choca included in the court file, Cruz feared her mother's reaction to the pregnancy, Cruz's second in 16 months. Cruz described herself as stressed, forgetful and preoccupied during her pregnancy, according to court documents. She told the psychologist she slept no more than two hours a night and performed poorly in school, according to his report.

She also told him she didn't know what to do, was not herself and was functioning “like a zombie.”

While incarcerated, Choca noted that Cruz reported panic attacks, palpitations and crying bouts. She believed everyone hated her and she “didn't deserve to be alive,” Choca wrote.

According to court documents, Cruz and her mother argued frequently, and Cruz ran away from home for several months in May 2009 and again in August of that year.

Documents show Cruz told authorities a friend's relative sexually assaulted her and she became pregnant with her first child, born in May 2010. The father of the second baby was a high school friend, according to court documents.

Prosecutors say Cruz hid her pregnancy for months before Nov. 4, 2011, when she entered the Salvation Army store at 1080 Barrington Road about 10 a.m. and asked to use the employee bathroom. There she gave birth to the baby who authorities say was born alive. They say she put the boy into a garbage bag, tied the bag tightly around his neck, placed him in a trash can and covered him with paper towels. After attempting to clean up the blood, Cruz left the store. Video surveillance captured her entering a second store about a half mile away, where authorities say she used a restroom to clean up.

A Salvation Army employee discovered the baby, who a Cook County medical examiner determined died of strangulation.

Three Salvation Army employees identified Cruz as the woman who used the restroom that day, prosecutors said during Cruz's bond hearing nearly three years ago. Two also identified her as the woman shown in the second store's video surveillance, prosecutors.

Four witnesses from the second store told police they knew the defendant and identified her as the woman who entered the store that morning.

Opening statements will likely take place Tuesday.

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