The woman who gave birth at her high school prom, then strangled her newborn and returned to the dance floor, was sentenced on Thursday to 15 years in prison. Under the plea agreement, she could be released in less than three years.
Melissa Drexler, 20, had pleaded guilty in August to aggravated manslaughter.
Dressed in a bulky gray sweater, Drexler was tearful during the sentencing and uttered only a one-sentence statement when asked to speak.
"I'd like to tell you I'm really, truly sorry for what I've done, OK?" she said.
Superior Court Judge John A. Ricciardi said the case was "very difficult" and made more difficult by the intense media interest in the case. He termed Drexler's actions "explainable but not excusable."
"She is not a monster. She is not someone to be gawked at, to be vilified by the public and the media. She is entitled to our understanding, our compassion, and our prayers," the judge said.
Drexler's lawyer, Steven Secare, said the circumstances of the case will "obviously never occur again." He said his client had a developmental and learning disability and was in denial, not of her pregnancy, but of how to deal with it.
Drexler's parents, John and Marie Drexler, sat in front row of the courtroom and remained generally composed during the proceeding. Her boyfriend, John Lewis, sat at the opposite end of the row.
Drexler had been charged with murder in the June 6, 1997, death of her son. She was a high school senior at the time.
When she entered her guilty plea, she said the baby was born alive and admitted she had lied when she denied knowing she was pregnant.
Drexler gave birth into a toilet bowl, then strangled the baby, cut the umbilical cord on a sanitary napkin disposal bin, and tossed the infant into a restroom trash can. She then returned to the dance floor.
"I knowingly took the baby out of the toilet and wrapped a series of garbage bags around the baby," she said at the time. "I then placed the baby in another garbage bag and knotted it. I closed it and put it in a trash can."
Maintenance workers who were called to clean up blood on the restroom floor discovered the baby's body.
Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson
Her boyfriend, Brian Peterson, who denied any active involvement in the baby's death, pleaded to a lesser charge of reckless manslaughter and remins free on bail.
Ad for Drexler, under a plea agreement, she could be released in 2 years and 11 months. She will serve her term at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Union Township in Hunterdon County, the state's only prison for women.
Written by John Curran