PORT JERVIS, N.Y. — A 22-year-old Port Jervis woman has been charged with murder after authorities say she gave birth to a baby girl prematurely in November and left the infant outside in frigid temperatures, where she died.
Nicole H. Layman was arrested by detectives with the City of Port Jervis Police Department on Tuesday evening and remains jailed in the Orange County Correctional Facility as she awaits a possible grand jury indictment, Port Jervis Police Chief William Worden said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Layman has been charged with second-degree murder, a crime in New York that Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler said is "not used very often." Under the state’s penal code, a person charged with the crime is alleged to have "recklessly engaged in conduct which creates a grave risk of serious physical injury or death to another person less than 11 years old."
Worden said the baby was born around seven months into Layman’s pregnancy when the infant was found around 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 12 near a vacant lot adjacent to Hornbeck Avenue. The baby, found unclothed and uncovered, still had part of its umbilical cord attached, he said.
A pediatric autopsy, which included tissue samples and toxicology reports that took upwards of 12 weeks, determined the baby’s cause of the death to be "homicide caused by environmental exposure to the newborn, premature infant due to being unclothed and left outside in the weather," Worden said.
Worden said it was not known how long the baby had been outside before it died, but due to the extreme cold — temperatures dropped to 15 degrees that evening in Port Jervis — he said it "wasn’t that long."
Layman, who was immediately identified by police the same evening of the infant’s death, was living with her boyfriend — the child’s father — and his family on Hornbeck Avenue, not far from where the baby was found dead. Hoovler would not disclose where the baby was born, but said it was not inside the home.
Authorities declined to confirm the father’s name and stated that no other individuals are believed to be involved.
Layman is suffering with "mental health issues," Hoovler confirmed after an inquiry from a reporter, but declined to disclose any additional details.
The newborn was named Sophia Grace Hadden by her grandmother, Worden said.
While authorities withheld certain aspects of the case, Hoovler said it was believed Layman kept her pregnancy a secret and "quite simply, I just believe she did not want to have a child." It is not believed that Layman did anything to "accelerate" the premature baby’s birth and it is not believed she has any other children.
Hoovler indicated that since the child’s death, the Port Jervis Police Department has been inundated with "close to thousands" of Facebook messages and screenshots, and while some information has proven helpful, other information has not.
Earlier in the hearing, Worden urged the public that the exaggerated portrayal of forensic investigations on crime TV shows — dubbed the "CSI effect" — is inaccurate.
"The public, rightfully so, not knowing what happens behind the scenes, they think the investigation happens rapidly," Worden said, adding that the case was a "priority" that relied heavily on medical evidence that often takes time.
Port Jervis Mayor Kelly Decker stated that what was most important was to remember Sophia Grace, "a young girl who could’ve survived and could’ve lived."
A makeshift memorial near the intersection of Hornbeck Avenue and Orange Street, where the infant’s body was found, has accrued candles, stuffed animals and balloons.
During the hearing, Worden discussed New York’s Abandoned Infant Protection Act, a law that allows parents to anonymously leave a baby up to 30 days old at a suitable location without fear of prosecution. New Jersey has a similar law called the Safe Haven Infant Protection Act. The newborn must have no signs of injury and left at an appropriate location that is staffed 24/7, such as a police station, fire department, hospital or church.
"We want to promote that information because we want to prevent tragedies like this happening again in the future," Worden said.
Following the press hearing, Worden again became emotional speaking about the newborn’s death, stating that it "tore at his heartstrings" because he is a father himself.
"The key is we have to put our personal side aside, we want justice as bad as the community does," Worden added.
A Port Jervis officer for 27 years and promoted to chief of the department in 2007, Worden told the New Jersey Herald he could recall only one other similar tragedy in the city of roughly 10,000 residents. In 2014, Port Jervis resident Brett Kanoff received a four- to 12-year prison sentence after he admitted to suffocating his 1-year-old son to death with a blanket in 2012.
Hoovler said Layman is facing 15 years to life in prison on the second-degree murder charge. However, he said it’s possible a jury could convict her on a manslaughter charge, which could range from five to 15 years in prison.
Port Jervis Assistant District Attorney Christopher Kelly will be handling the case.
Layman is being held without bail and is expected to appear in the City Court of Port Jervis on Feb. 24.
Lori Comstock can also be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.