Elyse Mamino is either a monster or a person who has mentally gone awry, said the judge who sentenced her to 15 years in prison on Thursday.
Mamino, 29, pleaded guilty but mentally ill to involuntary manslaughter and concealment of a homicidal death in connection with the death of her newborn, who was found in a plastic bag inside a dresser drawer in her basement. St. Clair County Circuit Judge Zina Cruse sentenced her to 12 years on the charge of involuntary manslaughter and three years on the charge of concealment of a homicidal death.
Prosecutors had asked for 17 years on the involuntary manslaughter count and three years for the concealment count.
“This baby wasn’t laid to rest in his Sunday best, the defendant laid him to rest in a towel wrapped in a plastic shopping bag,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Deb Phillips. “This baby wasn’t laid to rest in a silk-lined coffin with a teddy bear. The defendant laid him to rest in a dresser drawer in a Belleville basement.”
But John O’Gara, Mamino’s lawyer, asked for 12 years, arguing that a longer sentence would punish Mamino for her mental illness.
“This woman is not a monster,” O’Gara said.
During a mental evaluation, psychologist Daniel Cuneo concluded Mamino suffered from substantial depression and mental illness.
On Thursday, Mamino told the judge she denied her pregnancies because she was afraid she would be shunned by family and friends.
Mamino told Cruse that she babysat for children with special needs. She also said the time she had with baby Victoria before she was charged was precious to her.
“I never, never, never, want to be in that position again,” Mamino said.
O’Gara told the judge Mamino volunteered to be sterilized, but noted the court could not legally impose such a request.
Mamino was charged in St. Clair County in 2009 with first-degree murder and concealment of a homicidal death. The charges came just hours before her release from Lincoln Correctional Facility for an attempted-murder conviction in Monroe County.
“It was a cruel moment,” O’Gara said. “Everything. Everything. Everything that you have been working for is taken away.”
O’Gara told Cruse that Mamino was a model prisoner, who helped other prisoners and the guards.
“She is a caring, nurturing person,” O’Gara said. “...Never in my 28 years of practicing law, have I represented anyone like her.”
O’Gara described meeting Mamino and noting scratches on her forearms. Mamino, a former teacher’s aide who worked with special-needs children at Franklin School in Belleville, was scratched by a child with autism at her job.
“She endured that to help that child,” O’Gara said. “She did it out of love.”
In November 2008, Mamino tried to drown her newborn daughter in a toilet while attending a family party in Columbia, police say. The baby, later named Victoria, was fished out of the toilet by a Columbia police officer who responded to a 911 call. The officer saw the baby move and began resuscitation efforts. Those efforts were successful.
In the course of the Monroe County investigation, police found that Mamino may have given birth in 2007 in Belleville. During a subsequent search of the home at 5 N. 42nd St., police discovered the remains of a baby boy. Evidence developed during that investigation suggested the baby was born alive then placed in a plastic bag, causing the death of the newborn.
Mamino, who has been in the St. Clair County Jail since March 2014, will get credit for that time and she will receive day-for-day credit for the remaining sentence.
Columbia Police Chief Joe Edwards and Detective Karla Heine, who investigated the Monroe County case, attended the sentencing Thursday. Edwards criticized the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services after they allowed baby Victoria to return to Mamino and her boyfriend. Belleville police detectives Karl Kraft, Mark Heffernan and crime-scene technician Jill Zimmerman investigated the St. Clair County case.
“This was a cold case for nearly seven years, but within this tragic case, there were police officers and prosecutors who never gave up or stopped pursuing the evidence, who were the voice for this voiceless child, who did their job until the very end, like thousands of police and prosecutors do every day,” said State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly.