PLEASANT GROVE — As police waited Tuesday for results from the medical examiner, questions about how a woman accused of killing six newborn infants was allegedly able to conceal seven pregnancies continued to swirl.
Many have questioned how Megan Huntsman, 39 — who is listed in jail records as 5 feet 4 inches tall and 105 pounds — was apparently able to hide her pregnancies from her husband and her daughters, and then conceal six or seven deceased babies from not just her husband, but also from officers when her house was the target of a drug investigation in 2005.
Huntsman remained in the Utah County Jail Tuesday on suicide watch in lieu of $6 million bail. Police say Huntsman told them she gave birth to seven babies between 1996 and 2006 and strangled or suffocated six of them immediately after they were born. The seventh was allegedly stillborn in 2006. Huntsman then wrapped the babies in a towel or shirt and placed them in individual cardboard boxes that were stored in the garage of their Pleasant Grove home, according to investigators.
The Utah State Medical Examiner's Office began its work Tuesday to either confirm or dispute Huntsman's story. Police hope the autopsies will be able to answer questions such as: How did the infants die? Is Huntsman the mother to all seven babies? And who is the father or fathers?
Utah Chief Medical Examiner Todd Grey, while not allowed to talk about the specifics of the seven bodies brought to his lab, said one of the biggest challenges he faces in doing his job is the age of the bodies.
Determining paternity of 7 infants may be difficult, lengthy
by Andrew Adams
PLEASANT GROVE — Police may have a confession inhand from Megan Huntsman, but a pair of experts said Tuesday hercase is far from closed and far from a done deal for prosecutors.
Weber State University Department of Criminal Justice forensicsdirector Brent Horn said the forensics investigation into Huntsmanand the dead babies that were discovered could take months.
Investigators must still answer a host of questions, includinghow the infants died, whether Huntsman is truly the mother to allseven and who the father is or who the fathers are.
Determining paternity for all the infants could be particularlychallenging, according to Horn.'
Police said Huntsman's husband has claimed to have noknowledge of Huntsman's pregnancies.
Horn said investigators need nuclear DNA form hair follicles,blood or other tissues, and samples of those could be hard to findbecause of decomposition.
"That type of DNA is very easy to degrade," Horn said. "Theenvironment will break it down really quickly and make itdifficult."
Investigators said Huntsman told them she gave birth to thebabies from 1996 to 2006.Utah Chief Medical Examiner Todd Grey said Tuesday hecouldn't tell yet whether DNA is recoverable, or what its conditionwill be.
Horn said proving Huntsman is in fact the mom, however,should be simpler and can be done by studying bone samples.
"Somebody would be able to get mitochondrial DNA out of thatand at least be able to trace that back to the mother," he said.
The Utah County Attorney has yet to file formal charges, andlong-time former Salt Lake County prosecutor Kent Morgan saidprosecuting Huntsman isn't likely to be an easy task.
Morgan said the county attorney should worry about thepossibility of Huntsman's confession not holding up versus possiblemental health claims.
"If they're smart, it should scare them a lot," Morgan said."They should do a really good job."
Morgan said a detailed reconstruction of the alleged crimes isimportant to show Huntsman's mental state and her ability to thinkthrough what was going on at the time.
"If you don't, then you have somebody who can easily claim Ihave a mental illness and that mental illness either caused me to doit, compelled me to do it, or I could not formulate the intent tocommit the act," Morgan said.
"Decomposition is a big issue given the purported time that the bodies have been undiscovered. That makes issues of sex determination very difficult," he said. "We will be having a forensic anthropologist assist us in looking at the skeletal structures. That will help us determine gestational age. We'll also be looking for any evidence of skeletal trauma in any of the individuals."
That process could take weeks to months, he said. Grey and his crew will also be looking for potential DNA samples that can be sent to the Utah State Crime Lab. The types of samples available will be determined by the conditions of the bodies.
"We will be working with the crime lab to determine what, if any, samples will be appropriate for DNA analysis. I certainly couldn't say right now whether or not DNA is recoverable and the condition of that DNA," Grey said.
Pleasant Grove Police Capt. Michael Roberts said Tuesday that his investigators were informed that at least one of the deceased infants was female. Other than that, he said there was no new information about the case to release. The police department was sorting through the evidence that had been collected and was preparing a case to present to the Utah County Attorney's Office — possibly by Friday — to determine what criminal charges will be filed.
Huntsman has three living children — all daughters. Two of girls were born before 1996. Her youngest daughter would have been born in 2000 or 2001.
Darren West, Huntsman's estranged husband, reportedly did not know about his wife's pregnancies.
"He claims he had no knowledge of it," Roberts said.
West was convicted on both state and federal drug charges in 2006 and sentenced to nine years in federal prison where he served his state time concurrently. He was recently released and was in the process of moving back into his Pleasant Grove home when he made the horrific discovery in his garage over the weekend.
According to court documents, West had been purchasing large amounts of iodine — a precursor to making methamphetamine — from a livestock business in Ohio under a fake name from 2002 to 2005 and giving them to another person. He ordered a total of 84 pints through seven orders, according to court documents, which could have potentially made 28 ounces of meth. West told investigators another man paid him $250 for each iodine shipment.
On June 7, 2005, DEA investigators conducted a "knock and talk" investigation at the couple's Pleasant Grove home, 536 E. 200 North. Huntsman — who is referred to as Megan West in court documents — opened the door and "allowed the officers to look through the residence." Once investigators were satisfied that Darren West was not in the house, officers called his cellphone and left a message for him.
The scope of the knock and talk investigation did not allow investigators to meticulously go through drawers, cupboards or even boxes in the garage.
DEA agents returned the next day and performed a "trash cover" at the residence, meaning they dug through the family's trash cans in front of their curb. The DEA said Tuesday it is not legally required to obtain a search warrant for trash can searches. And because DEA agents were able to collect enough evidence for their case without officially searching the home, they never obtained a search warrant.
In the trash can, police found phosphorus evidence, another common meth precursor. Contributing: Sandra Yi and Andrew Adams