Grinsell pleas, gets six years for baby’s death

Prison bound Gina Rose Grinsell makes an early court appearance to face charges that she killed her newborn baby after giving birth in April. Grinsell had originally pleaded not guilty to murder and child abuse charges, both of which could have carried 25-years-to-life sentences.

Prison bound Gina Rose Grinsell makes an early court appearance to face charges that she killed her newborn baby after giving birth in April. Grinsell had originally pleaded not guilty to murder and child abuse charges, both of which could have carried 25-years-to-life sentences.

Photo By Tom Angel

The Chico State sorority girl accused of killing her newborn son pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter in Butte County Superior Court Monday. Gina Rose Grinsell, 20, had faced separate charges of murder and abuse of a child causing death after authorities found her dead infant son in a plastic bucket on the floor of her sorority bedroom last April 2. She was sentenced to six years in state prison, of which she is expected to serve about five.

Facing forward and ignoring the curious stares of reporters and onlookers, Grinsell entered court Monday with red, puffy eyes and wiped at tears periodically as she faced Judge Robert Glusman. She made no statement other than to give one-word answers to Glusman’s questions regarding her understanding of the charges against her. Her voice wavered only once, when answering in the affirmative whether she understood she would be going to prison. Before Grinsell was led into custody, Glusman opined that Grinsell was a young woman for whom “society has let her down, her sorority has let her down. … It appears she fell through the cracks.”

Both the defense and prosecution agreed that the plea deal brokered last week was a fair if ultimately frustrating compromise in a case that left many unanswered questions and unresolved issues. Neither Grinsell’s Chico attorney, Dennis Latimer, nor Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey was able to explain satisfactorily why Grinsell, a Chico State business major with no prior criminal record or history of psychological problems, would deny to friends she was pregnant, carry the fetus to term, then face the ordeal of giving birth alone, only to discard her newborn baby like an empty soda bottle.

“This is a sad, tragic, lonely thing that happened,” Latimer said. “Something inside her made her do this unusual thing. It is a phenomenon that happens to a certain [number] of young women.”

Ramsey said his office was likewise unable to explain Grinsell’s actions. “There seems to be a real paradox between this girl who had a normal childhood … no psychological problems, did well in school, was sufficiently popular—not a loner—and this image of a baby killer,” he said.

While a trial would have brought out many more details—which defense attorneys admitted may have been one reason for the plea deal—police reports and public statements made by attorneys for both sides paint a fairly graphic picture of Grinsell’s actions.

While on summer break from attending Chico State, Grinsell engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with a young man from the Bay Area. The two were involved romantically for only a few short weeks, and he was unaware Grinsell had become pregnant until he was contacted by Chico police last April. Sensing a change in Grinsell’s physical appearance, her Kappa Sigma Delta sorority sisters repeatedly asked her if she was pregnant, which Grinsell denied, telling them the swelling in her gut was from a non-malignant tumor.

Grinsell stayed in denial for months, even convincing herself that whatever was inside her was either not a baby or had already died. On the morning of April 2, between midnight and 3 a.m., Grinsell gave birth to a 9-pound, 8-ounce boy while her sorority sisters held a party in another part of the house. Although the birth was by all accounts difficult, apparently nobody at the party was aware of it taking place.

The next day, Grinsell, who was physically exhausted and had lost a large amount of blood, collapsed in the sorority house shower, causing her sisters to inquire about her well-being. After going to class and then shopping for cleaning supplies and new sheets, Grinsell went home, at which point her sorority sisters insisted she go to an urgent-care clinic. There, doctors discovered she had recently given birth and had her transferred to Enloe Medical Center. A call was made to the sorority house, and a resident there soon found the baby, dead, wrapped in a plastic Wal-Mart bag and discarded in a bucket in Grinsell’s room. Grinsell was released from Enloe into police custody.

Even once she was incarcerated, reports of her actions in jail indicate she was still in denial. According to one such report, Grinsell continually asked her jailers to let her out, as she had classes, tests or social events to attend.

“For a period of time both during and after [the pregnancy and birth], she was not in a good, logical frame of mind,” Latimer said.

Had the case gone to trial, Ramsey said he expected it would have been a “battle of the experts,” with the defense claiming the baby may not have been alive when it was born, a circumstance that would have deflated the charges against Grinsell. Ramsey said Grinsell had said when interviewed that the baby was “not moving” but that she had also been “inconsistent” in her statements. Citing a medical examiner’s report that showed air in the child’s lungs and bruising on his neck, Ramsey said he still believed Grinsell gave birth to a live baby then “manually strangled” him before disposing of the body.

But investigators for the defense were set to dispute the coroner’s report, noting that a paramedic had given the baby CPR, which would have forced air into his lungs. The bruising on the neck could theoretically have been caused by Grinsell’s efforts to extract him from her womb.

So while Ramsey said he still felt confident he could have taken the case to trial, there was enough uncertainty in the medical evidence to make a manslaughter plea the best possible outcome.

“The bottom line is that this was not a murder case in the classic sense," he said. "It’s a sad, tragic case for all those involved, [yet] we did not believe it was an accident."