- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) When it was time for Joanne De La Cruz to be punished for smothering her newborn baby and discarding the body in the trash, she received what the prosecutor called "justice tempered with mercy."

The judge agreed on a sentence that included jail time, probation, home monitoring and 500 hours of community service promoting a new California law that allows mothers to surrender newborns to an emergency room within 72 hours with no questions asked.

But a local garbage company is leery of having its trash bins covered with "Don't Throw Your Baby Away" stickers which De La Cruz will be required to apply during her community service.

Waste Management, which maintains thousands of bins in the county, says there are better ways to get the message out about abandoned babies.

"We're very concerned about this issue, but we're not really sure that putting stickers on containers is the most effective way to get the message out," said Waste Management spokeswoman Sarah Voss in Houston.

Thirty-five states have passed similar abandonment laws. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 105 newborns were found abandoned in public places in 1998, the most recent year statistics were gathered.

In California, since the law took effect Jan. 1, 2001, 11 newborns have been safely surrendered and 18 have been found dead, mostly in and around trash bins.

Debi Faris, who runs a graveyard in Southern California for abandoned babies, said the stark messages could be "a child's last line of defense."

Founded in 1996, Miss Faris' graveyard has become the final resting place for 54 abandoned and unclaimed children, babies found in the trash, along roadways, washed up on beaches, or those who, after their death, have been abandoned by their parents.

"Waste Management workers have found the bodies in their Dumpsters," said Miss Faris, who helped bury two more abandoned newborns last weekend. "The company can be a hero now. If it would change one mother's mind, then wouldn't that be worth it?"

De La Cruz admits making a terrible decision about what to do with her unwanted baby in 1996. She later said if she knew she could safely turn the baby over to authorities, she would have.

But in 1996 there was no safe-abandonment law, and the 19-year-old college student afraid of her parents smothered the baby boy in her dorm room with paper napkins. Then she carried the little body to a trash bin and left it there in a bag.

Tormented by what she had done, De La Cruz confessed four years later to a therapist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The therapist, required by law to report the crime, told campus police. The dead baby was never found, but when bloodstains on a carpet pad matched her DNA, De La Cruz was arrested.

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