A woman who works with a tribal child development program has been charged with killing her newborn son in 1999, then discarding the body inside a suitcase on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.
Dana Deegan, 34, was charged with murder in federal court Thursday, and Magistrate Charles Miller ordered her held until a hearing on Tuesday.
According to an affidavit, Deegan told FBI agents she gave birth to the boy, her fourth child, at home but was unable to care for him. The agents said she told them she found the infant dead after she left him alone without food or water for two weeks.
"We believe she understood fully what the consequences of that would be," U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said.
Deegan's defense attorney, Bill Schmidt, declined to comment on the case.
The boy's body, dressed in a one-piece sleeper and socks, was wrapped in a blanket and towel and placed in a soft-sided lavender suitcase. A rancher repairing fences spotted the suitcase near a state highway and opened it in November 1999.
Tribal employees took up a collection to bury the unknown infant near Mandaree, and authorities from tribal agencies, the state and federal government kept pursuing the case.
The death of the baby, known for years only as Baby Moses, led to North Dakota's safe havens law. Authorities eventually identified his mother through DNA testing. Deegan volunteered a DNA sample to the FBI in 2004.
The analysis that showed she was the mother took three years because of a backlog, Wrigley said. He declined to say how the initial match to the Deegan family was made.
Wrigley said the investigation is continuing, but he would not say if Deegan's husband is a focus. He also would not give her husband's name or whereabouts. Deegan told the magistrate her sister would care for her three other children.
Three Affiliated Tribes spokeswoman Vonnie Alberts, who covered the infant's death as a reporter for the tribal newspaper in 1999, said a conviction "will assist with closure" for reservation residents.
Co-worker Maranda Phelan said Deegan had worked about six years as a caseworker with the tribal child development program, which makes home visits to track the physical and intellectual development of children through age 5.
North Dakota lawmakers in 2001 approved a safe haven law in response to the Fort Berthold case and a case in Fargo in which a woman was accused of putting her baby in a trash bin. The law enables a parent to drop off a newborn at a hospital without fear of criminal charges.