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‘Have you ever thought about it since?’: Judge upbraids mother who left newborn baby girl to die out in the cold in 1985 during emotional sentencing hearing

Lee Ann Daigle

Lee Ann Daigle cries during her manslaughter sentencing hearing in Houlton Superior Court in Maine on June 20, 2023. (Screengrab via WABI)

A Massachusetts woman who gave birth to a baby girl and left the child to die in a cold gravel pit in her native Maine back in 1985 was sentenced by a judge who repeatedly chastised her in court this week.

Lee Ann Daigle, 59, has been living in Lowell, Massachusetts, for several years – where she built a life and successfully raised two daughters. Years before that, she lived in Caribou, Maine.

In June 2022, Daigle was arrested and charged with murder over the death of Baby Jane Doe. The child was born and left to die in a gravel pit in the woods of Frenchville, Maine, authorities said. The frozen, infant girl was found by a dog, a Siberian Husky named Paca, who carefully brought the girl’s tiny body back to her owners on Dec. 7, 1985.

“I could not believe what I saw,” the dog’s co-owner, Armand Pelletier, told the Bangor Daily News in 2014. “I saw what looked like a little rag doll, but then we saw it was a frozen little baby.”

In April, the defendant pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter by way of criminal negligence. She faced a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars. On Tuesday, Houlton Superior Court Justice Stephen Nelson sentenced Daigle to 16 years in prison with all but six years suspended – along with an additional three years of probation.

Her sentence was ordered to begin immediately.

“She essentially discarded and dumped the baby in the snowbank,” the judge said, in comments reported by the Daily News. “It was below freezing, and there can be no real claim there was not certainty that such action would in fact result in the death of that baby.”

The prolonged speech directed against the defendant by the court took stock of her alleged lack of contrition over the girl’s death.

“For 37 years Miss Daigle did not step forward or take responsibility even when it was clear that she was the target of the investigation and would be a near certainty that should would be identified by DNA evidence,” Nelson opined.

A large pool of blood and the placenta were found at the gravel pit after Paca’s tracks led detectives to the scene of the crime. Footprints and tire tracks were also present. But the case languished for decades.

Lee Ann Daigle and Paca the dog

Lee Ann Daigle, center, pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter nearly 40 years after Paca, inset, found her dead and abandoned baby girl. (Aroostook County Jail and screengrab/WGME)

In recent years, Maine State Police Detective Jay Pelletier, who works in the MSP Unsolved Homicide Unit and hails from the same area where the baby girl was found, headed up the case. A breakthrough came, the MSP said, with the help of “advancements in technology to include DNA and genetic genealogy,” that identified the dead child’s biological father, according to the Portland Press Herald. Daigle was eventually identified as the baby girl’s mother.

During her sentencing hearing, she pleaded for leniency from the court, according to Bangor-based CBS/CW Plus affiliate WABI. Her two daughters testified at her sentencing that she was a good mother and grandmother.

“Not a day goes by that I wish I hadn’t done more,” Daigle told the judge. “That night I was in a state of panic. I should’ve sought help in the moment…I hope you will take into consideration who I am today, who I have proven myself to be, a good daughter, sister, mother, grandmother and friend. I made a mistake and I will live with that. I cannot correct the past, but I can continue to move forward.”

The defendant reportedly became emotional when her daughters spoke of their love for their mother, the Daily News reported.

“I enjoyed motherhood and not a day goes by that I wondered if I could have raised another,” she said through tears. “If I would have known she was alive. Family is the forefront of my life. I made a big mistake. I could have done more, I should have done more.”

Nelson was not particularly swayed – he highlighted inconsistencies in Daigle’s statements to police, wherein she expressed disinterest about the child’s death; and her statements about the weight of her decades-old decision to the court, wherein she said she thought about the child constantly.

“Have you ever thought about it since?” the judge asked before answering. “Answer, no, no, no three times. You never thought about it, you never gave it any other consideration, and so that is inconsistent with a claim that this has been on someone’s mind and there has been suffering in silence with this secret for quite some time.”

“When I spoke to the police, I was nervous, scared and embarrassed,” Daigle replied, the Press Herald reported. I did not tell the police everything. What I told you is the truth. What I feel is real.”

Nelson added that in his view, Daigle thought of the child for years called Baby Jane Doe as an “it” as compared to “her.”

“I would note that the evidence of the wonderful life she has given her other two daughters is a mitigating factor; however, it puts into stark contrast the opportunities that her actions took away from her first baby,” the judge opined.

Jerry Lambe contributed to this report.

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