An former Illinois college student was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday after pleading guilty in the death of the newborn son she suffocated shortly after giving birth in a dormitory bathroom last year, PEOPLE confirms.
Related charges of first-degree murder — which carried a potential penalty of 20 to 60 years in prison — and concealing a homicidal death were dismissed against Lindsay Johnson. In exchange, she pleaded guilty only to the charge of endangering the life or health of a child, her co-defense attorney Evan Bruno tells PEOPLE.
“She acknowledged today that there was wrongdoing, but as we’ve maintained all along, it was not a murder,” he says. “It is a tragedy for the newborn, for her, for the whole family.”
“Lindsay Johnson is not an evil person. This isn’t a case about evil. This is a case about her taking responsibility for her actions, and she’s done that,” Bruno adds.
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Authorities said Johnson, then a 20-year-old sophomore from Monee, Illinois who was enrolled at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, gave birth in the bathroom of her campus dormitory on March 13, 2016.
Her fellow students summoned police after hearing groans coming from the bathroom, but when questioned, Johnson initially said she was suffering from a stomach flu.
Police returned after a dormitory resident subsequently reported hearing a baby’s cries. The officers found blood on the bathroom floor, but said Johnson had left the scene.
When located walking on campus soon afterward, Johnson told officers that the deceased newborn she was carrying in her backpack had been stillborn. Later she allegedly told investigators the child had been born alive and she’d used a towel to silence him.
Eventually she claimed she had not known she was pregnant.
However, a statement from police following Johnson’s arrest described a forensic analysis of her phone that revealed “a history going back to September 2015 of searches made for information on pregnancy, pregnancy symptoms, miscarriage, home abortions, and how to manage physical signs of pregnancy after the loss of a baby.”
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Johnson was taken into custody after her sentencing, says her attorney, who adds that with credit for good behavior, Johnson could be released after serving five years for the endangerment conviction.
“It was difficult to get to the point where the state would let the first-degree murder charge go,” Bruno says. “It is obviously a tough pill to swallow, but after basically a year of negotiation, the state kind of wasn’t willing to go below” the 10-year sentence.