A New Mexico teenage mother was sentenced Monday to a mandatory 18 years in prison for tossing her newborn son into a trash bin behind a shopping center, but a state district judge cited mental health concerns and the defendant’s age in suspending two years of the punishment.
Jurors convicted Alexis Avila, 19, of child abuse involving great bodily harm following a days-long trial last month in which her public defender argued her actions were not premeditated and that a previously undiagnosed mental health disorder played a role.
Judge William Shoobridge told Avila that had it not been for luck and the grace of God he would have been deliberating a sentence in a murder case as there was a high probability the child would have died had it not been found that winter day in Hobbs, near the Texas border.
Avila told the judge she wants to learn how to deal with stress and anxiety and said she regrets missing out on her son’s first milestones.
“I regret his first hours of life were traumatic, and I regret that he will always have this in the back of his head and will think I do not love him because that’s what he’ll read and hear,” she said. “But that’s not true at all. I do love him. I truly do.”
Avila was arrested in January 2022.
Police said a group of people were looking through the trash bin when they found the baby and tried to keep the boy warm until police and paramedics arrived. Investigators used surveillance video to identify a car suspected of being involved, which led them to Avila.
Public defender Ibukun Adepoju disputed that Avila made a premeditated attempt to kill her baby. Abepoju said while Avila’s actions were wrong, they were the result of her bipolar disorder and that she was disassociated and detached from her feelings.
Avila’s case also spurred new conversations in New Mexico communities and among legislators about the state’s safe haven law, which allows parents to leave a baby younger than 90 days at a safe location without criminal consequences.
Such laws first began to pass in state legislatures in the early 2000s in response to reports of baby killings and abandonments.
New Mexico lawmakers in 2022 approved a bill to expand the state’s Safe Haven Program and provide funds to build one baby box for every county where an infant can be left.
Boxes have been installed in several other states. Florida is the latest to consider legislation that would allow for the boxes.
By Susan Montoya Bryan