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Utah mother charged with murder in deaths of six newborns

Megan Huntsman appears in court in Provo, Utah April 21, 2014. REUTERS/Rick Bowmer/Pool
Megan Huntsman appears in court in Provo, Utah April 21, 2014. REUTERS/Rick Bowmer/Pool

By Peg McEntee

PROVO, Utah (Reuters) - A Utah mother accused of killing six of her newborn infants over a decade and stashing their bodies in a garage was charged on Monday with murder in their deaths.

Megan Huntsman, 39, made a brief court appearance in Provo, Utah, as the first-degree murder charges were revealed by Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman.

Hunstman could face life in prison if convicted but will not be eligible for the death penalty, prosecutors said.

Police have said that Huntsman, who was arrested on April 13, has admitted to strangling or suffocating the six babies just after their births between 1996 and 2006 in a rare case of serial infanticide.

The infants' remains were found wrapped in old towels, shirts and plastic bags and stuffed inside cardboard boxes in the garage of her former home in Pleasant Grove, a suburb just north of Provo. The body of a seventh infant was found disposed of in the same way, but authorities have said they believe that child was stillborn.

Police have said Huntsman secretly gave birth to all seven babies without medical assistance at the house after apparently managing to conceal her pregnancies.

Authorities have said she has explained her rationale for the killings to investigators, but they have not publicly revealed the alleged motive.

Buhman told reporters that DNA from the infants' remains was still being analyzed to confirm their parentage, which could take weeks or months.

Huntsman has three surviving daughters, ages 14, 18 and 20, and they still live with other relatives at the Pleasant Grove address. At least one of them, the youngest, was born during the period in which the mother is suspected of slaying the babies.

Each count of first-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of five years to life in prison. But Huntsman is not eligible for the death penalty if convicted because the alleged offenses predate changes in the law that would have made them capital crimes, said Jared Perkins, a deputy county attorney.

Huntsman, who remains jailed in lieu of $6 million cash-only bond, was arrested after her estranged husband, Darren West, discovered the remains of one of the infants while cleaning out his garage, leading police to find the six other bodies.

The county attorney said neither West nor the three surviving sisters are considered suspects in the case.

(Reporting by Peg McEntee; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, David Gregorio and Cynthia Osterman)

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