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Woman pleads guilty in fetus death

By Stewart Bishop
Globe Correspondent / May 24, 2011

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A 26-year-old Wellesley woman charged with the beating of a pregnant woman in a Dorchester nail salon, which resulted in the death of the woman’s fetus, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and assault charges yesterday, officials said.

Ayanna Woodhouse admitted assaulting the then 26-year-old woman, who was six months pregnant, in April 2010, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said in a statement. After the expectant mother was attacked, she was hospitalized, and a girl was delivered by caesarean section, Conley said. The child was stillborn, he said.

Under Massachusetts law, a homicide charge may be brought in the death of an unborn child if the fetus would have survived outside the mother’s womb, if the injuries that ended its life had not occurred, according to Jake Wark, a spokesman for Conley.

If the case had gone to trial, the state medical examiner and other doctors would have testified that at six months, the fetus would have survived it not for the injuries, Wark said.

Judge Carol Ball sentenced Woodhouse to two years in a house of correction, followed by three years of probation, Conley said.

Before sentencing, an impact statement written by the victim was read to Suffolk Superior Court by Assistant District Attorney Leora Joseph, Conley said. The Globe previously identified the victim as Tori Catron of Wellesley, who was a neighbor of Woodhouse.

“I was so excited to meet her [the baby], not knowing I would never get that chance,’’ Catron said. “My daughter is in a better place now, but I always thought that better place would be right here with me.’’

Boston attorney Robert J. Galibois said last night that Woodhouse, herself the mother of a young child, does not dispute the prosecution’s version of events and has taken responsibility for her actions.

“She stepped up and acknowledged her role,’’ Galibois said. “Ms. Woodhouse recognizes the seriousness . . . of the outcome.’’

Galibois said that Woodhouse is the cousin of the father of the victim’s child and that the dispute began as a result of postings on Facebook. Conley said the two women had appointments at Tulip’s Nail Salon on Neponset Avenue on the same evening when the dispute turned violent.

At one point, Woodhouse rose to her feet and punched the victim in the face, which knocked the woman down, the district attorney said. Woodhouse continued to beat the visibly pregnant woman as she lay on the ground and punched her several times in the stomach, Conley said.

An autopsy by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled that the cause of the fetus’s death was placental abruption, defined as a detachment of the placenta from the uterus, due to maternal trauma, Conley said.

Stewart Bishop can be reached at sbishop@globe.com.