Mother, abused as a child, allowed to plead no contest in death of baby _lowres

Raven Senegal

A Lafayette mother charged with first-degree murder in her baby’s January suffocation will instead be sentenced under Louisiana’s prison range for manslaughter, a lesser charge agreed to by the prosecutor because of abuse the woman suffered as a child.

Raven Senegal, 21, on Monday pleaded no contest to manslaughter. In her no-contest plea, Senegal admitted no guilt in the death of Miracle Senegal, who was almost 6 months old when she was smothered to death Jan. 29 at the Senegals’ Zim Circle home in Lafayette.

Senegal faces 10 to 40 years in prison at hard labor. She faced a possible death sentence if she had been convicted of the original charge of first-degree murder, though the District Attorney’s Office never indicated it would pursue the death penalty.

Senegal was arrested April 2, two months after Miracle was killed, when Lafayette police learned more about the circumstances that led to the baby’s death.

State District Judge Ed Rubin on Monday ordered a presentencing report, which he’ll review before deciding how long Senegal will spend behind bars.

According to Louisiana law, a manslaughter conviction carries a prison term of zero to 40 years, unless the victim was 10 or younger. When the victim is a child, manslaughter carries a sentence of at least 10 years.

“When you have a child killed by a mother, your intent is to see that the defendant gets the ultimate punishment,” Assistant District Attorney Pat Magee said.

Then he saw the reports chronicling Senegal’s troubled childhood, Magee said. “I saw then that Miss Senegal never really had a chance. … She truly lived a tragic life.”

Magee didn’t elaborate on whether the abuses Senegal endured were at the hands of family or others, or if the nature of the abuses were sexual, physical or psychological. And documents that spell out what happened to her when she was a child are sealed from public view.

Senegal’s initial story to police was that Miracle died from natural causes, said G. Paul Marx, who heads the indigent defender’s office for the 15th Judicial District and is on Senegal’s court-appointed legal team.

When a medical report labeled the cause of death as asphyxiation, Senegal’s story was that a plastic shopping bag accidently got wrapped around her baby’s head. Police then looked more deeply into the death after Senegal sent a cellphone text that contained a different account of what happened, Marx said.

Marx said Senegal’s defense team had just begun to dig into her background when they discovered the childhood abuse and showed the records to Magee, a longtime prosecutor with the District Attorney’s Office.

Senegal will remain in the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center until she is sentenced.

After sentencing, the Louisiana Department of Corrections will determine where she serves her prison term.