A woman who snatched a newborn from a hospital more than two decades ago and raised the child as her own was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison by a judge who called it a “crime of selfishness” that enhanced parents’ fears and forced hospitals to boost security.
Ann Pettway, of Raleigh, N.C., nodded her head repeatedly as U.S. District Judge Kevin P. Castel announced his sentence in a Manhattan courtroom packed with relatives and friends of Pettway as well as the true parents of Carlina White, who was stolen from Harlem Hospital when she was only 19 days old.
The 50-year-old Pettway had pleaded guilty to kidnapping in February, describing how she one day in 1987 took a train from her Connecticut home to the hospital, where she posed as a nurse and reassured White’s mother, who had brought her daughter to the emergency room for treatment of a high fever.
The sentence was far less than the 20 years in prison recommended by prosecutors and the Probation Department, but it was within the 10 to 12½ years agreed to by prosecutors and defense lawyers when a plea agreement was signed.
Castel scolded Pettway, telling her she had “inflicted a parents’ worst nightmare on a young couple,” caused other parents to fear child kidnappings and led hospitals to install preventive measures to avoid similar kidnappings.
He said it was “not a crime of greed, of vengeance. But it was an act of selfishness, a crime of selfishness.”
Pettway apologized, saying she was “deeply sorry for what I have done” and sought to “right my wrong and to ask for forgiveness.”
Carl Tyson, the biological father, glared at Pettway, saying: “You hurt me really bad.”
Joy White, the mother, said her daughter had found her but: “I still haven’t found my daughter.”
She said she “can’t change how my daughter feels” when she talks about Pettway’s relatives as if they are her own.
“My daughter is here, but she’s not home yet,” she said.
Outside court, Tyson said the sentence “should have been longer,” but White said she was satisfied.
“If they gave her 200 years, it’s still not going to make up for the time my daughter was gone,” she said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea L. Surratt said Pettway told “complicated lies” for 23 years.
In court papers, she challenged Pettway’s lawyers’ contention that she provided a “stable, loving and happy home,” saying Pettway was convicted of five crimes while Carlina was in her custody and had confessed to cocaine use from 1983 through 2005.
In a letter to the judge, Pettway apologized, blaming untreated psychological disorders from her failed pregnancies.
“It may not sound correct on paper but I am hopelessly SORRY,” her handwritten note said.
White has described encountering Pettway on the day her daughter disappeared, dressed like a nurse. “She came up to me and said to me, ‘Don’t cry. Your daughter is going to be OK.'”
The case was solved by Carlina herself.
As she grew up in Connecticut under the name Nejdra Nance, the girl became increasingly suspicious of her own identity. Pettway ultimately told her a part-truth, admitting she was someone else’s daughter but claiming she had been willingly given away by a drug addict.
Carlina White said she browsed the website of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for clues to her identity. After matching a photo of herself with one on the site, she tracked down her true mother and they reunited in January 2011. A DNA test confirmed they were mother and child.
Joy White declined to comment about Carlina White’s absence from court Monday.
In court papers, defense lawyers Robert Baum and Sabrina Shroff called Pettway “broken and severely depressed.”
The lawyers said Carlina White declined to speak at the sentencing because she didn’t want to go back to court and felt she had done enough work finding her biological parents.
They also noted that she is represented by counsel and has a movie project in the works.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.