Crime & Courts

Army soldier charged in newborn's 2013 death plans to plead guilty to manslaughter, court filings show

A woman originally charged with second-degree murder after she left her newborn daughter for dead in an Eagle River park intends to plead guilty to manslaughter, according to a notice filed in Anchorage Superior Court.

A dog walker found the dead baby in a towel at Turner Park in Eagle River on Oct. 15, 2013. Ten days later, a grand jury indicted then-Army Spc. Ashley Ard on the murder charge. She pleaded not guilty to the charge.

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Court filings say the 28-year-old remains enlisted in the U.S. Army and has not been imprisoned since posting bail about three years ago. She remarried, taking the last name Brown, and gave birth to another child, according to the filings.

Defense attorney Rex Butler filed a notice of intent to change plea on Brown's behalf on April 27.

"The parties agree that Ms. Ard (Brown) will plead guilty to manslaughter with some terms and open sentencing," the notice says. Open sentencing means Brown has no assurances about the length or severity of her punishment.

Brown also agreed to two aggravating factors that could extend her sentence for the manslaughter charge, according to the notice. "Aggravators" are admitted details of a crime that allow a judge to go beyond the general sentence range.

District Attorney Clint Campion said the general sentence range for a first-time felony offender charged with manslaughter is five to nine years. The judge can increase Brown's sentence by up to 20 years due to the aggravators, Campion said. He said it is possible the judge will not accept the agreement between the parties.

Brown spent about three years out on bail living with a third-party custodian, according to transcriptions of court hearings in the case. The state had been looking into whether Brown violated her bail conditions as recently as April 26, by leaving the military base without her custodian, according to the transcripts.

At a routine hearing on Monday, the court set a date for Brown to enter her plea on June 26. She was taken to Hiland Mountain Correctional Center and will remain there until her sentencing.

Over the course of three years, attorneys on both sides have filed motions and kept the case moving forward. In April 2016, Brown told the court she'd be relying on an argument that she suffered from a mental disease or defect at the time of the alleged crime.

The state argued against her intention to use an expert witness' testimony regarding postpartum psychosis and infanticide, among other topics. But the court allowed the expert's inclusion in the case, according to an order issued in June.

Attorneys on both sides said in court in late March that they were ready to go to trial.

District attorney Clint Campion said the case was held up in part by the litigation involving Brown's intention to make a mental health argument.

"It took a long time, longer than we'd like to see it last," Campion said. "But we believe this is a fair resolution."

Butler did not respond to calls for comment.

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