Arrest finally made in 20-year-old case of murdered baby in North Carolina

A forensic genealogy service helped investigators break the case

Graig Graziosi
Friday 21 February 2020 21:52
Arrest made in the cold case murder of newborn baby in North Carolina

The nearly two decade old murder of a newborn baby in North Carolina, may finally have been solved.

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office announced that they have arrested a woman in connection with the 1999 murder of a newborn baby in which the child had been tossed from a moving vehicle in a sack, dying of blunt force trauma. The child still had its umbilical cord attached when it was found by a passing soldier.

The Fayetteville Observer reported that Deborah Riddle O’Conner, 54, of Burke County, was arrested by Cumberland County Sheriff’s investigators and will have her first court appearance on Friday.

DNA evidence examined by a “forensic genealogy service” provided investigators with a break in the case which led them to Ms O’Conner. When investigators visited Ms O’Conner and interviewed her about the murdered child, police claim Ms O’Conner admitted she had been the mother and was arrested.

The woman did not comment on her motives and, according to the Observer, has several adult children.

Ms O’Connor has been charged with first-degree murder and is currently being held at the Cumberland County Detention Center without bond.

Under North Carolina law, a first degree murder conviction could result in sentences ranging from life in prison to the death penalty if prosecutors could establish aggravating circumstances.

The murder of the child - which the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office named ‘Baby Michael’ after “the patron saint of law enforcement” - has been a grim shadow hanging over the department for the last 20 years.

The sheriff’s office held a funeral for the baby on March 30, 1999.

Investigators on the case visited Baby Michael’s grave annually to remember the case.

“We’re just like anybody else, because we have families, we have children and that affected this whole sheriff’s office,” Cumberland County Sheriff Ennis Wright said at a Friday press conference. “Throughout the years, we’ve spent many hours, long days, long nights [on the case]. At some point, we didn’t think we were going to solve it. But at this office we never give up.”

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