Via new dad Jay Stephenson, who makes the inevitable Michael Vick comparison. There’s no question the baby was hers; the question for the jury would have been whether it was born alive, making mom a murder suspect, or dead, in which case she’s “merely” guilty of improperly disposing of the body. (The medical examiner found evidence of a live birth but two other medical experts disagreed.) I say “would have been” because, for reasons I don’t quite grasp, the prosecution’s murder charge against her was dismissed by various judges no less than four times before it got to a jury and replaced with the charge of involuntary manslaughter. Here’s an article from last year after one of the dismissals. What does this mean?

Judge David S. Wesley said he couldn’t overrule Commissioner Ronald Rose’s judgment of the evidence in the preliminary hearing but that the case could not proceed without knowing the cause of death clearly, what Ashcraft could have done differently to save the infant or if she was capable of doing so.

There’s no evidence that the baby would have survived had she sought care, Wesley said.

Wesley cited prior cases where a caregiver failed to provide aid to a newborn, and said a failure to act could be consistent with a charge of involuntary manslaughter.

He then threw out the murder charge and replaced it with that charge.

That boldface bit seems to suggest that, as a matter of law, leaving a baby to die from exposure or starvation (as opposed to engaging in some affirmative act to kill it) doesn’t qualify as a murder — but that can’t possibly be true, can it? And if it’s not true, why dismiss the charge? Let it go to the jury and if the evidence isn’t there for murder, they’ll acquit. Any prosecutors or defense lawyers willing and able to clarify here?

As for how she ended up with that sentence of time served, which in this case meant 30 days in jail and two years of electronic monitoring, she pleaded no contest to a charge of child endangerment resulting in death. And that’s that. Oh, except for one more detail: This isn’t the first time a newborn baby of hers mysteriously disappeared. Nuance:

In April 2004, Ashcraft went to a Los Angeles hospital because she was bleeding, and doctors determined she had given birth.

She said she had given birth to a stillborn child but no body was found and she was not arrested.

One missing “stillborn” baby + another “stillborn” baby in a trash can = five years probation. Painfully obvious exit question: How come mom didn’t call an ambulance when the contractions started or, failing that, when the babies emerged, allegedly not breathing?

Update: Another painfully obvious question from the comments: If she wanted to get rid of the babies, why carry them to term instead of aborting them? Surely she knew she was pregnant; if she was ashamed of it or worried about other people knowing, the time to act was sooner rather than later. If, on the other hand, you want to give her the benefit of the doubt and believe the babies really were stillborn, i.e. that she fully intended to carry them to term and raise them, then what’s with the trash can?