Trooper: Mother showed no emotion
North Whitehall woman faces trial in death of baby discovered in paint bucket
It was a hectic day two years ago when state Trooper Michael Everk went to the North Whitehall Township home of Ashley N. Caraballo and informed her that he and other state police investigators were there to serve a search warrant.
The older of Caraballo’s five children was getting ready for school and some of them were crying, so Everk took Caraballo into the kitchen to show her the warrant — to look for electronics and a baby. When Caraballo saw the warrant, “she showed no emotion,” Everk testified.
A trooper later would discover a dead baby hidden in a 5-gallon paint bucket in the
basement. Caraballo’s fiance and her mother, who were there during the Oct. 25, 2017, search, were both visibly shaken and upset about the discovery, Everk testified. So were some of the investigators.
But Caraballo, he testified, looked the “same as when I came in. No emotion.”
Everk was the only witness to testify Wednesday at Caraballo’s preliminary hearing on charges she ripped a baby boy from her womb, killed the baby and then hid the body in the bucket. District Judge Michael Pochron ruled his testimony provided enough evidence to send Caraballo to trial on charges of homicide, concealing the death of a child and abuse of a corpse.
Caraballo, 30, was arrested in June after a lengthy state police investigation that required multiple medical rulings and forensic tests that determined the baby died of either asphyxia, blood loss or hypothermia, and was born alive, authorities said. She has been in Lehigh County Jail without bail since her June 19 arrest.
Caraballo’s attorney, Dennis Charles, declined to comment following the hearing. He did not present a defense during closing arguments of the hearing. About a dozen of her friends and relatives attended the hearing in Lehigh County Central Court, but they also declined to comment.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Everk testified he first began investigating the case on Oct. 21, 2017, after being called to St. Luke’s Hospital in Allentown, where Caraballo was being treated for vaginal bleeding, and doctors found that she had a placenta but no baby.
Caraballo told doctors the placenta was from her baby born a year earlier, Everk testified. He said the doctor told him that was “absolutely not” the case, and the placenta belonged to a 30- to 34-week-old baby who was recently born.
According to court records, she kept the pregnancy of her fifth child in 2016 a secret until a few days before the baby was delivered.
The next year, she again hid that she was pregnant, and the father of the children only found out when state police investigators searched the basement of their home in October 2017 and found the body of a full-term, nearly 8-pound baby boy stuffed in a paint bucket, according to a report from Lehigh County Children and Youth Services.
According to a criminal complaint:
Caraballo was getting the children ready for school on Oct. 20, 2017, when her partner and father of her children, Paul Wilson Sr., noticed a blood spot on her pajama pants. When the blood started to gush, he rushed her to the hospital.
An obstetrician at St. Luke’s Hospital in Allentown said she showed signs of recently giving birth, including what appeared to be an uncut portion of an umbilical cord still attached to placental tissue. The obstetrician said the placental tissue came from a 30to 34-week fetus.
The doctor said Caraballo’s injuries were consistent with a baby being “ripped out” when the cervix was not fully dilated. Doctors determined the birth could have happened several hours earlier or up to two to three days before she came to the hospital.
The obstetrician notified police, and Trooper Everk arrived the next day to begin his investigation.
Caraballo repeatedly denied giving birth and claimed the placental tissue was from her last pregnancy a year earlier.
Medical records from that pregnancy contradicted her claim, and they also showed that she lied about having undergone other procedures that would have prevented her from getting pregnant.
State police twice searched the couple’s home on the 5400 block of Mauser Street in North Whitehall Township, where they lived with their five children, who were between 1 and 10 years old at the time.
The first search happened on Oct. 21, 2017, but police did not find a fetus or baby.
Police returned to the home with a search warrant on Oct. 25, 2017, and during a search of the storage area of the basement, troopers found a baby boy wrapped in a sheet inside a pink children’s backpack, which was then stuffed inside a black garbage bag and then the 5-gallon paint bucket.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Chief Deputy District Attorney Matt Falk presented several images of the discovery as evidence.
An initial autopsy could not determine how the baby died. Forensic pathologist Dr. Samuel Land described the baby as being full-term, 7.9 pounds and 21.85 inches long. The baby, posthumously named Paul E. Wilson Jr. after his father, showed no signs of trauma, Land said.
The case was forwarded to Baltimore’s Chief Medical Examiner Dr. David Fowler, an expert in forensic pathology, and in a written report on March 11, 2018, he opined that the baby was born alive and died from one or any combination of asphyxia, blood loss or hypothermia. Forensic pathologist Dr. Isidore Mihalakis reviewed the case and also concluded that the baby was born alive and his death was a homicide.
A final ruling that the baby’s death was a homicide was made by Lehigh County Coroner Eric Minnich on June 19, the day Caraballo was arrested.
The baby’s father was not charged because the investigation determined he was unaware that Caraballo was even pregnant.
In announcing charges against Caraballo, Lehigh County District Attorney Jim Martin said “this case presented complex medical issues, which had to be thoroughly investigated in order to determine whether Ms. Caraballo could be charged with murder.”
Morning Call reporter Manuel Gamiz Jr. can be reached at 610-820-6595 or at [email protected]