Teenagers face death for baby's murder

Click to follow
A few months ago, their life was an American picture postcard - high-school sweethearts from the affluent New Jersey suburbs, bound for university, without a visible care in the world. Now that world has collapsed. She is in prison and he is on the run, wanted for infanticide and facing the death penalty.

Yesterday, police were searching for Brian Peterson, 18, who is charged with killing the newborn son he helped deliver in a Delaware motel room last Tuesday. The mother, Amy Grossberg, is already in prison, accused of the first degree murder of the infant, whose battered body was found in a dustbin at the motel. Meanwhile, half the country wonders how such a tragedy could have happened.

For everyone who knew them, they were a perfect couple. He was a school sports star beginning his first year at a private university in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Ms Grossberg, also 18, was, according to neighbours, a "dream daughter", a bright student with talent as an artist, who had just entered the University of Delaware.

There was, however, one problem: she was pregnant and eight days ago went into labour.

As police reconstruct the story, Mr Peterson made the three-hour drive to pick her up at her lodgings, and check in at a nearby motel. There, he helped deliver the baby, which he put in a plastic bag and drop- ped in a dumpster behind the motel. He then drove Ms Grossberg to her dormitory and returned to Gettysburg.

Mr Peterson has told investigators the baby was alive when it was abandoned. But on the strength of an autopsy which found the infant died of skull fractures caused by "blunt force trauma and shaking", prosecutors brought murder charges. The death penalty can be sought in cases in Delaware where the killing is intentional and the victim is under 14.

Their decision has prompted outrage, and accusations that the state is rushing to judgment before the facts are in: "This case is the result of children having children," said Murray Richman, president of New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

But despite the almost non-existent prospect of one ever being handed down, the Delaware deputy Attorney General, Peter Letang, seems determined to press ahead. "When a baby is put outside in cold weather, in addition to having head trauma," he said, "in our view that is intentional homicide."

Along with horror and pity, the dominant reaction has been bafflement: Why, the press has asked, did the couple not seek help, offer the child for adoption or even arrange an abortion? No less of a mystery is how Ms Grossberg managed to carry her pregnancy to term, unnoticed by her family or friends.

The whole story might never have come to light had Ms Grossberg not developed postnatal complications. Back in her dormitory that same Tuesday evening, she collapsed and was rushed to hospital where she recounted what had happened. At the same time, her boyfriend was confessing to a university counsellor in Gettysburg.

After initially deciding not to press charges, police at the weekend issued a warrant for Mr Peterson. When they went to his father's house in Long Island where he was believed to be staying, they found it empty. His lawyers are said to be urging him to turn himself in, but by yesterday afternoon Mr Peterson still had not done so.