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Mother charged nearly 40 years after her newborn baby was found dead in remote woods

By Zenebou Sylla and Ashley R. Williams, CNN

(CNN) — A woman was charged in her newborn girl’s death nearly 40 years after the abandoned baby was found dead in a remote wooded area in New Jersey, according to the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.

On Christmas Eve 1984, officers discovered the baby’s body wrapped in a towel inside a plastic bag off a road in Mendham Township after two boys reported finding her that morning, a news release stated.

The baby’s umbilical cord was still attached, according to the release issued Thursday. The medical examiner determined the infant, whose death was ruled a homicide, was alive at birth and died less than 24 hours later.

The girl, whose identity was unknown, was named “Mary” after being baptized by a reverend of St. Joseph Church in Mendham Township, where she was buried, the prosecutor’s office said.

Finding Baby Mary’s mother

Investigators were recently able to identify Baby Mary’s biological parents using “new technology, law enforcement networking in three states and old-fashioned police work,” the prosecutor’s office said.

Baby Mary’s biological mother, who police did not name because she was a juvenile in 1984, was a South Carolina resident when she gave birth to the child, the prosecutor’s office said.

The biological father died before being identified, and police say there is no evidence he was aware of either the woman’s pregnancy or the baby’s birth and death.

Authorities filed a juvenile delinquency complaint against the mother in April and charged her with one count of manslaughter, an offense which would be a second-degree crime if committed by an adult, according to the release.

“This arrest is the culmination of decades of effort, across multiple generations of law enforcement,” Morris County Prosecutor Robert J. Carroll said.

“The death and abandonment of this baby girl is a tragic loss and even after nearly 40 years, remains just as heartbreaking,” Carroll said. “Justice may not take the form the public has imagined all these years, but we believe with this juvenile delinquency complaint, justice is being served for Baby Mary. Nothing can right this terrible wrong.”

Safe Haven law did not exist in 1984, police said

Police said New Jersey’s Safe Haven Infant Protection Act, which did not exist at the time of the child’s abandonment, can help parents and families to give up an infant safely, legally and anonymously.

The act, which allows parents or their representatives to surrender a newborn 30 days old or younger at an emergency room, ambulance, police or fire station, became law in August 2000.

“I want young parents to know that there is help available,” Morris County Sheriff James Gannon said in the release. “The baby will be accepted with no questions asked.”

Every Christmas Eve for the past 35 years, community members and law enforcement have held a remembrance service at the Baby Mary’s grave “to ensure she is never forgotten,” Mendham Township Police Chief Ross Johnson said.

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