ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Board of Pardons on Monday, Nov. 22, laid the groundwork to grant the commutation of a 35-year-old woman who drowned her newborn baby in a bathtub and threw away the body in a shoebox.
Samantha Heiges was 19 in 2005 and involved in an abusive relationship when she gave birth to a baby in an apartment bathtub. Heiges said the baby's father physically hurt her in an effort to terminate the pregnancy and told Heiges to kill the baby. Heiges said her boyfriend threatened to kill her and the baby if Heiges didn't end the baby's life herself.
“I really thought in my head that nobody could see a child be born and still not want them. I wanted to keep her. I named her, I loved her," Heiges told the board. "There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel guilt and remorse for what happened."
Heiges rejected a plea deal and a potential 48-month sentence at the time in favor of a jury trial. And a Dakota County jury convicted Heiges of second-degree intentional murder. She was sentenced to 299 months in prison, of which she has served nearly 13 years.
Family members, medical experts and others said Heiges lived with constant regret after taking her infant daughter's life and spent years working to better herself through education and volunteering opportunities while incarcerated. And they said that Heiges should be released into the community so that she could help raise her living daughter.
The three-member panel -- which is Gov. Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison and Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea -- agreed to allow Heiges to serve out the remainder of her sentence on supervised probation rather than in prison. The board is set to meet again next month and will take up a formal plan for Heiges' release.
“This is happening because we believe you’re going to make this work and you’re going to be successful,” Walz said during the virtual hearing.
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The panel met Monday after a five-month delay spurred by a challenge to the state's law requiring unanimous agreement from the board to allow clemency. A Ramsey County judge in July ruled that the law was unconstitutional and that a 2-1 vote should be adequate to pardon someone. But the Minnesota Supreme Court in September reversed that ruling and found the law to be constitutional.
The board on Monday issued more than a dozen pardons extraordinary at the belated spring 2021 meeting. The pardons can be granted to people who've served their sentence and are found to be of "good character and reputation."
The three-member panel rejected a request for commutation for Lincoln Caldwell's life sentence. Caldwell in 2006 drove Kirk Harrison when Harrison shot and killed Brian Cole. Caldwell argued that his life sentence was too severe and should be shortened to reflect his role in the drive-by shooting.
The members are required by law to hold two meetings each year and their next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 13-14.