RED WING, Minn. (TCD) — A judge has sentenced a 51-year-old woman to over two decades in prison for abandoning her newborn son at a lake in the middle of winter 20 years ago, causing him to die.
KMSP-TV reports Jennifer Matter was sentenced Friday, April 28, in Goodhue County court after pleading guilty to second-degree murder with intent in connection with her son’s death. As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors dropped a charge of second-degree murder without intent.
Matter reportedly told the judge in her plea agreement that she left her son “on the beach, walked away, got into my car, and drove away with no intention of returning.”
The sentencing comes almost exactly one year after the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension arrested Matter at her home in Belvidere Township on May 9, 2022.
According to Matter’s criminal complaint, on Dec. 7, 2003, Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to Methodist Beach near the shoreline of the Mississippi River after receiving a call about a deceased infant. Four teenage girls reportedly found the unclothed child near the edge of the water with his umbilical cord still attached and wrapped around his body.
The autopsy found the child was born alive and full-term. He reportedly suffered blunt force head injuries “possibly due to the birth process,” including hemorrhaging in his head. The coroner determined the baby’s manner of death was homicide.
Jennifer Matter was identified by DNA as the baby’s mother after genetic genealogy provided an important clue the ultimately led to her. A baby girl found deceased in 1999 in the river near Red Wing was also determined through DNA to be Matter’s.
— Minnesota BCA (@MnDPS_BCA) May 9, 2022
A similar incident had occurred four years prior on Nov. 4, 1999, when Goodhue County deputies and Red Wing Police Department officers went to a boat harbor near the Mississippi River regarding a deceased child found floating in the water. A witness in his boat reportedly “saw something floating in the river by the boathouses near the shoreline and wanted to figure out what it was.”
The man got closer, saw it was a towel, and picked it up. Then, an “infant child fell out of it.”
The man directed the child’s body to the shoreline and called 911.
According to the criminal complaint, this child also still had the umbilical cord still attached. The coroner found the child was a full-term female with no signs of obvious injuries. The girl’s internal organs reportedly “showed change of early decomposition.”
Later, thanks to DNA technology, investigators learned Matter was the mother of both children.
Matter told investigators she was “in a bad mental state” in 1999 because she was “in and out of jail, drinking too much, doing a lot of stupid things, and had experienced chaotic life circumstances for a long time.”
She reportedly did not know she was pregnant. After dropping her kids off at school, she started bleeding and gave birth in the bathroom at home. Matter told police the baby was not breathing, so after one day, she drove to Bay Point and left the newborn in a boathouse.
For the second child, Matter said she was “almost positive” she went into labor on the beach and was “trying to lay low because she had an arrest warrant and believed cops were looking for her.”
Matter wrapped the child on the cold night, left him on the beach, and drove away. She didn’t tell anyone about her pregnancy and did not receive any prenatal care.
According to the court document, Matter “considered other options like adoption but had no plans to leave him somewhere safe after birth.”
Goodhue County Sheriff Marty Kelly reportedly said in a statement following the recent sentencing, “Today marks the day, after a long 24 years, where justice has been served. Two newborn babies never had an opportunity to speak, to grow, to learn, to love, and to make an impact in whatever they chose to do. As a parent, the number one unwritten rule of parenthood is to protect your children at all costs.”
Kelly added, “The defendant, the mother of these newborn babies, betrayed their trust. This betrayal cost two souls from flourishing and a great deal of pain in our community.”
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