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North Union mom gets up to 15 years in killing

| Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010

A Fayette County woman who pleaded guilty to third-degree homicide for the death of her newborn infant was sentenced to 7 1/2 to 15 years in state prison on Wednesday, despite a tearful plea for mercy.

Sobbing, Sara Sue Hawk, 26, of North Union, stood before Judge Steve Leskinen yesterday and apologized for the death 10 years ago of her newborn daughter.

"I just ask for mercy," said Hawk. "I just want to be a mother to my (other) children."

Hawk pleaded guilty in October in the death of the infant who came to be known as "Baby Mary." Two fishermen discovered the infant's remains on June 4, 2000, in Cove Run Creek in North Union.

The case went cold until 2008, when state police used DNA to identify Hawk as the mother. Hawk told police her former brother-in-law, Warren Bircher of Adah, helped deliver the baby and placed her in the creek. Bircher was acquitted at a jury trial.

Hawk, who was 16 when she delivered Baby Mary, apologized yesterday.

"There has never been a day, there will never be a day, that goes by that I won't have to live with this, that I don't think about that baby," said Hawk, crying. "I wish every day that I could go back and make smarter decisions, smarter choices."

Hawk's attorney, Thomas Shaffer of Uniontown, asked for house arrest instead of a prison sentence. He said Hawk has no other criminal record, and is the mother to a 6-year-old and a 3-month-old infant.

Shaffer said Hawk was "under great, great pressure" in 2000, when she feared her family would not accept the baby she was carrying then. Although Hawk initially gave police conflicting accounts about the infant's death, she ultimately cooperated with police, even testifying against Bircher, Shaffer said.

At trial, Hawk testified Bircher feared the child was either his or was biracial.

She testified he took the infant from her immediately after birth, wrapped her in a backpack and placed her in the creek.

District Attorney Jack Heneks, who opposed house arrest, said Hawk remains culpable for her actions in 2000.

"She did acknowledge that all of the efforts of her and Mr. Bircher were to the effect they were going to not have that child live," Heneks said.

Leskinen noted that Hawk kept silent for eight years.

She did not acknowledge responsibility until police identified her as the mother, the judge said, "more or less cornering her."

As she was placed into handcuffs to be led to jail, Hawk tearfully asked Leskinen for a few moments with her family. A contingent of family members, including Hawk's infant, accompanied her to the sentencing.

Leskinen denied the request.

"I sympathize," Leskinen said as Hawk was led, handcuffed and sobbing, out of the courtroom. "But justice is justice at this point."

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