Virginia woman pleads guilty to second degree murder in drowning death of newborn baby

By Dave Andrusko

Vanessa Danielle Poteat

A woman who pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second degree murder will be sentenced in September for the 2014 drowning of her newborn son in a bathtub literally moments after he was born. After looking at her baby for about an hour, Vanessa Danielle Poteat stuffed him in trashbags.

Poteat, 26, was originally charged with first-degree murder, James Whitlow reported, and “was to have a two-day trial beginning Tuesday, court records show. But she entered into a plea agreement for a reduced sentence with the Danville Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.”

“The plea agreement called for a sentence that was in between the sentencing guidelines,” Danville Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Petra Haskins said. “So the least amount of time she can get is 12 years and nine months.”

According to Whitlow, the prosecution’s written summary of the evidence is that after the baby’s body was found at the Danville, Virginia, home of her boyfriend’s mother on June 12, 2016, Poteat “told varying stories of why she did not have a baby following her pregnancy in 2014 when questioned two years later.”

(Poteat had told her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Shannon Kip Browder, that with help from a wealthy relative, she’d gone to Florida for an abortion. “Browder did not know she was pregnant until years later,” Whitlow explained, because they did see much of one another in 2014. )

Poteat’s initially told police that she’d aborted in various North Carolina cities but because her stories were inconsistent, “police reexamined the case last October.”

Investigators questioned her on Oct. 23, 2017, where she repeated the claim that she had an abortion in North Carolina because the child would not have survived past birth.

But police informed her they had examined the remains and found the child was carried to term. Poteat then confessed to killing the boy — and attempting to kill herself — out of fear for what her boyfriend would do to them. She told police that he had been violent in the past.

The commonwealth’s investigation did not reveal “any domestic violence that occurred on a repeat basis before the death of this baby,” the prosecution’s summary of evidence showed.

Again relying on the prosecutor’s summary of the evidence, Whitaker reported that after giving birth on September 20, 2014, Poteat “slipped the newborn under the bath water and held him to her chest until he stopped moving.

“Once it stopped moving she realized what she had done and she tried to get the water out of the baby but it was too late,” the document states. “She looked at the baby for about an hour, and then placed him in trash bags.”

The document says she took a number of pills and went to bed “hoping she would die.” When she woke, she put the newborn’s body in a duffel bag and later stashed it Browder’s house when the two moved in together. Browder discovered the body June 11, 2016 and called police.