Original article no longer available
The Oakland Press
Web-posted Jun 9, 2005
By KORIE WILKINS of The Oakland Press
PONTIAC – Shontelle Rae Cavanaugh was an honor student.
Now, the 24-year-old Pontiac resident is a criminal defendant, charged in the death of her 9-month-old daughter.
Cavanaugh is facing life in prison if convicted of the open murder charge she was arraigned on Wednesday afternoon before Pontiac District Court Judge Preston Thomas.
Before the charge, Cavanaugh – who had been working at Wal-Mart following her graduation from Oakland University – had never been in trouble with the law.
“She has no criminal history,” said her attorney, Cyril Hall. “This is a tragic situation. My client was suffering the products of mental illness.”
Hall said Wednesday he plans to mount a vigorous defense for Cavanaugh, who he said suffered from postpartum depression following the Aug. 28, 2004 birth of Simone Marie Cavanaugh.
Authorities were called to the home of Cavanaugh’s mother, Gina James, in the 1000 block of Marshbank on Monday morning after James returned from an errand and found Simone unresponsive in Cavanaugh’s arms, said Deborah Carley, deputy chief Oakland County prosecutor.
The baby girl looked as if she were asleep, but James noticed red marks around Simone’s mouth, Carley said. The cause of the child’s death was ruled suffocation. Authorities say Cavanaugh put her hands over the baby’s mouth and nose, smothering her.
Simone was pronounced dead at POH Medical Center.
“This is a very sad case,” Carley said.
Cavanaugh, who is being held without bond and faces a June 21 preliminary examination, had been undergoing treatment for depression and was prescribed medication, Carley said. But authorities say she was not taking the medication properly or consistently.
James declined comment when reached by phone Wednesday. Family members who appeared at the arraignment also did not speak publicly.
Friends say Cavanaugh is a bright woman who has been a high achiever all her life.
Torey Coleman, 24, graduated from Pontiac Northern High School in 1999 with Cavanaugh.
“I would have never thought anything was wrong with her,” said Coleman, of Pontiac. “She was the last person in the world you’d think would do something like this.”
Cavanaugh was a Wade McCree scholarship recipient, National Honor Society member, student council board member and captain of Pontiac Northern’s dance team.
She was recognized in the Who’s Who Among American High School Students catalog, graduated from Oakland University in 2003 with a science degree and was known by her peers as a model, well-liked student.
Jimmy Landrom, another childhood friend of Cavanaugh’s, was also shaken by the news.
“I’ve known her since elementary school at Mark Twain (in Pontiac),” said the 24-year-old, who also graduated with Cavanaugh.
“It’s sad to see her going through something like this.”
Landrom said he and Cavanaugh lost contact about 18 months ago, but the person he grew up with was “remarkable with a wonderful personality.”
“My thoughts and prayers go out to her family,” Landrom said.
“It’s just a sad story that hit us all by surprise. She was loving and caring. I would never think this could happen to her.”
According to www. WebMD.com, postpartum depression typically develops a few months after childbirth. Without treatment, the condition can be prolonged and disabling.
About one in eight women is affected by postpartum depression, according to the Web site. Symptoms usually include fatigue, insomnia, sadness, anxiety and feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
Sometimes, psychotic symptoms can emerge. The disorder can be triggered by hormonal changes and other factors, such as illness, poor partner support and financial problems.
The illness has been in the news recently, with actress Brooke Shields coming forward to talk about her struggles with postpartum depression. Andrea Yates remains in a Texas prison after being accused of drowning her five children, who ranged in age from 6 months to 7 years old.
Earlier this year, Yates’ conviction was thrown out by a judge after it was revealed that a forensic psychiatrist offered false testimony in her trial.
Reporter Kaniqua S. Daniel contributed to this story.