Mercyhurst volleyball player charged with suffocating newborn baby

Updated: September 18, 2007, 6:37 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- A Mercyhurst College volleyball player was charged Tuesday with killing the baby she secretly gave birth to in her campus apartment bathroom.

Teri Rhodes hid the pregnancy from friends and teammates, told a doctor two days before the Aug. 12 birth that she didn't think she was pregnant and did Internet research on topics including "what can kill a fetus," Erie police said.

After giving birth, the 18-year-old Rhodes put the newborn in a plastic bag and left it on the floor of a bathtub as she showered, according to the criminal complaint.

Among other counts, Rhodes was charged with homicide, abusing a corpse and concealing the death of a child. Her attorney, Philip Friedman, declined to comment.

The sophomore has been living at her parents' house in Commerce, Mich., near Detroit. She was freed on $25,000 bond Tuesday afternoon.

"The defendant made no attempt to seek medical care and even went so far as to deny to medical personnel that she had even given birth," the complaint said. Rhodes "intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or negligently caused the death of her newborn baby girl."

The baby was full term, police said. A coroner ruled the death a homicide, saying the infant girl had been alive for about 10 minutes before being suffocated.

A short time after Rhodes gave birth, the volleyball team's assistant coach, Sarah King, took the teenager to a hospital, unaware she had just delivered a baby, police said in an affidavit.

Rhodes initially denied to hospital personnel that she had given birth, but later admitted it after being examined by a doctor, according to the complaint. She told police she realized she was giving birth when she went to the bathroom and saw the baby's leg.

Rhodes first told police the baby was in a trash bin, according to the criminal complaint. Later, she told them the baby could be found on the floor of her apartment bathroom.

Rhodes passed a sports physical that cleared her to play volleyball two days before she gave birth, police said. Rhodes told investigators the doctor asked her if she was pregnant and she responded that "she didn't think so."

A day later, Aug. 11, King asked Rhodes to get a pregnancy test, Rhodes told police. On the day of the birth, Aug. 12, Rhodes went to morning volleyball practice, but didn't feel well and returned to her apartment, police said. Within hours, she gave birth, authorities said.

A search of Rhodes' laptop computer found that she had done research on the Internet on topics including "what can kill a fetus," "alternative methods of ending pregnancy" and "herbal abortion techniques," according to the criminal complaint.

Erie County District Attorney Brad Foulk said investigators know when Rhodes conducted the searches, but would only say they were done "fairly close to the incident."

Mercyhurst is a private, Catholic liberal arts college with about 3,000 students.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press