Fetus left in Denver dumpster was possibly stillborn; no current charges for mom

DENVER – Complications relating to prematurity likely contributed to the death of a fetus found left in a dumpster on East 11th Avenue in March, the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner determined in the fetus’ autopsy.

But the medical examiners who performed the autopsy said they could not definitively determine the fetus’ manner of death because they had no placenta from the birth, nor could they exclude accidental or non-accidental asphyxiation in its death.

The fetus was a female that was estimated as having gestated for approximately 30-32 weeks, according to the medical examiner’s office. A typical human pregnancy involves a 40-week gestation period.

The fetus’ mother is “possibly developmentally delayed,” the medical examiner wrote, citing the police investigation, and was “reportedly unaware that she was pregnant.” She had a history of neurofibromatosis, according to the report.

The report says that the woman “passed a ‘sac’” into the toilet, then gave birth to the fetus shortly afterward in her bedroom.

The woman gave conflicting statements about if the fetus was stillborn, according to the report, initially saying it wiggled before becoming unresponsive, then said that the fetus was “born still” and “was not moving and made no noise.”

She washed the fetus, wrapped it in a towel, and cradled it for a while, according to the report. She then placed the fetus into a cardboard box, along with a stuffed animal and handwritten card, then put the box in the dumpster. A third party was with the woman at the time, according to the autopsy report.

The fetus went undiscovered until two nights later, when someone discovered the box.

It’s unclear if the mother will face charges in the case, as the medical examiner wasn’t able to determine if the fetus was born still or was alive for any time after its birth. The baby is referred to as a "fetus/infant" in the autopsy report.

The Denver District Attorney’s Office said it was reviewing the autopsy report, but has not filed charges against the mother at this time.

Colorado has a law called the Safe Haven law, which allows parents to hand over newborns to hospital or fire station workers with no questions asked.

State lawmakers have also tried multiple times in the past to make the death of a fetus a homicide, but the measures have failed each time.

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