A woman who snatched a newborn baby from a New York City hospital in 1987, then raised the child as her own daughter for more than two decades, pleaded guilty to a kidnapping charge Friday as the girl's true mother wept in the courtroom.
Ann Pettway, 51, appeared resigned to a life behind bars as she entered the plea at a federal courthouse in Manhattan. Her voice was flat as she briefly recounted how she took a train from her home in Bridgeport, Conn., to Harlem Hospital, where she scooped up Carlina White, a 3-week-old baby who had been brought to the emergency room by her parents.
"I went to the hospital. I took a child," she said. "It was wrong."
As part of her plea bargain, prosecutors agreed to recommend between 10 and 12 ½ years in prison, although the actual term will be set by a judge.
As Pettway admitted her guilt, Carlina's birth mother, Joy White, quietly cried in the courtroom gallery. Afterwards, she told reporters that she was outraged at the plea bargain, and felt a decade in prison would be too light a punishment for the woman who had robbed her so cruelly.
"I've lost 23 years of being with my daughter," she said. White said she still remembers encountering Pettway at the hospital on the day her daughter disappeared, mistaking her for a nurse. "She came up to me and said to me, 'Don't cry. Your daughter is going to be OK."
She said Pettway should get a year in jail for every year her child was missing. A judge set a tentative sentencing date of May 14.
The mystery of the kidnapping was solved by Carlina White herself, who had come to be suspicious about her own identity as she aged into adulthood.
After growing up in Bridgeport under the name Nejdra Nance, White eventually took to browsing the website of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for clues to her identity. After matching a photo of herself with one on the site, she tracked down her true mother. The two reunited in January of 2011.
Today, they speak every day, Joy White said.
"I love my daughter. She's a beautiful girl," she said, adding that she had kept a picture of her missing baby at her bedside for 25 years. "She told me yesterday, 'Mommy, you're my Valentine.'"