An Indiana woman has been sentenced to life in prison for starving her newborn daughter to death in Florida.
The Lakeland Ledger reports that 26-year-old Ruby Stephens was sentenced Thursday after pleading guilty to first-degree murder.
Police say Stephens and her husband, Roy, had traveled from Indiana to Polk County, Florida, in December 2014 to spend the holidays with his sister. Ruby noticed the baby, Betsey Kee Stephens, was unresponsive during a stop in Lakeland, and paramedics responded. The baby was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
Roy Stephens received a life sentence after being convicted last month of first-degree murder and other charges. He testified that he didn’t know his wife wasn’t feeding the baby and had accepted the child as his daughter.
The baby weighed 6 pounds, 1 ounce when she was born in Indiana on Dec. 1, 2014. When she died in Florida weeks later, she weighed just 4 pounds, 1 ounce. An autopsy determined the 22-day-old starved to death.
She may have been dead even before her parents called 911 from the parking lot of a Golden Corral in Lakeland after getting no response from the child Dec. 23.
The reported infidelity that resulted in her pregnancy and Betsey’s birth placed a strain on their marriage, Ruby Angeline Stephens told police, according to her arrest report. She said her husband didn’t pay much attention to the baby.
Detectives with the agency’s violent crimes department “worked endlessly on this case,” conducting interviews, background checks, reviewing evidence and preparing search warrants, Lakeland police Sgt. Gary Gross said in a report.
“The Medical Examiner findings revealed that the infant died of malnutrition as a result of starvation,” he added.
A preliminary investigation found the newborn was dead for at least 3 ½ hours before the mother called 911, a report said. Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Vera Volnikh said the child had not eaten between six and seven hours before she died — a finding that conflicts with what the mother told investigators.
The mother initially said she “strictly breastfed” the baby every two to three hours, even as they drove from Indiana to Florida to visit relatives.
The death weight of 4 pounds,1 ounce was about half the normal weight of a child her age, the arrest report said.
The Lakeland Police Department responded to assist emergency medical officials after getting a report about an unresponsive infant at the Golden Corral at 4705 U.S. Highway 98 North at 6:10 p.m. Dec. 23. “The parents advised they came from Indiana to visit family in the area,” police said in a report.
They checked into the Comfort Inn at 3520 U.S. Highway 98 before driving to the nearby restaurant to dine with family members.
“The mother advised that she had checked the infant’s feet and they appeared to be cold so she covered the infant’s feet with a blanket,” police said.
She checked the child’s feet again later and noticed they were unusually cold and she got no response from the infant.
That’s when the parents called 911.
The Lakeland Fire Department and Polk County Fire Rescue responded and the infant was transported to Lakeland Regional Medical Center, where she was declared dead.
At the time, the infant’s siblings, a 1-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl, appeared to be in good health.
They were in the custody of the Florida Department of Children and Families.