Mother denies killing infant
published on Friday, February 6, 2009 10:36 PM MST
By JODI HAUSEN Chronicle Staff Writer
NICK WOLCOTT/CHRONICLE Shanara Anderson, charged with the deliberate homicide of her three-month-old daughter, gets led into Judge Holly Brown's courtroom Friday. Anderson pleaded not guilty. Handcuffed and shackled, Shanara Anderson, 23, shuffled slowly into Judge Holly Brown’s courtroom, her head bowed, her long bangs obscuring her bespectacled eyes.
Anderson did not hesitate when Brown asked if she was ready to enter her plea.
“Not guilty,” she said.
If found guilty, Anderson could face the death penalty. But prosecuting attorney Todd Whipple said during the 20-minute hearing that the state did not intend to pursue the death penalty.
Alternately, Anderson could be sent to prison for life, however Whipple did not indicate the state’s intentions Friday.
According to court documents, Anderson called 911 in Bozeman around 10 a.m. Jan. 10, 2008, saying that her 3-mouth-old daughter, Vanyel, was not breathing.
Anderson had moved to Bozeman from Glendive with her infant and 2-year-old daughter the day before to live with a high school friend who had proposed to her over the phone. She had recently broken up with Vanyel’s father.
According to a transcript of the 911 call, Anderson told a dispatcher that she had found her infant in her bassinet with a leather jacket draped over it and when she removed the jacket, her daughter was white and not breathing.
She tried to perform CPR on the baby, she told the dispatcher.
“So you don’t know how long the baby’s been like this?” the dispatcher said.
“No, I don’t. I’m so scared. I don’t know. I’m so scared,” Anderson replied.
Vanyel was pronounced dead at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital later that morning.
A coroner reported that an autopsy did not definitively indicate the cause of death, but ruled out Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The autopsy also found bruising on the baby’s brain, suggesting a “lethal event” had taken place shortly before her death. Several of the baby’s ribs had also been fractured, which the coroner said were “consistent with abuse.”
At least three people, including the nurse that cared for Vanyel after her birth, told police that Anderson was indifferent and sometimes aggressive to her infant daughter.
Two friends said they witnessed Anderson roll Vanyel in a blanket so tightly that the child “would have difficulty breathing and would gasp for air.”
During an interview with a Bozeman detective, Anderson maintained that she did not kill her daughter.
The morning the baby died, she told the detective, Anderson said she “was tired, I don’t know if I laid her down hard, light … I didn’t throw her down.” She also speculated that her toddler might have been inadvertently responsible for her sister’s death.
And she also told the detective that she was depressed “and may have forgotten to take her medication and may have suffered from temporary insanity.”
“I just felt like I had no control over anything in my life,” she said.
Brown set Anderson’s bail at $500,000. Her next court appearance will be set at a later date.
Jodi Hausen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2630.