PEI

Lawyers recommend prison for woman who killed 3 of her newborn babies

Lawyers were in court Monday making arguments on an appropriate sentence for a Charlottetown woman who killed three of her newborn children. Shannon Dawn Rayner, 40, pleaded guilty to three charges of infanticide and one charge of concealing a body.

Warning: Details in this story are disturbing

Shannon Rayner seen here leaving Charlottetown provincial court in an earlier court appearance. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Lawyers are recommending a federal prison sentence for a Charlottetown woman who killed three of her newborn babies.

Shannon Dawn Rayner, 40, was charged last year after police found the remains of two infants in storage totes at a property in Sherwood where she was living at the time. Police conducted the search after getting a report that Rayner had been seen to be pregnant twice but did not have any young children.

The remains of a third infant were found in May 2019 and reported to police. Rayner has been in custody since then.

Rayner has pleaded guilty to all three infanticide charges and a charge of concealing the body of a dead child. According to the Criminal Code of Canada, a woman commits infanticide when "by a wilful act or omission she causes the death of her newly-born child, if at the time of the act or omission she is not fully recovered from the effects of giving birth."

On Monday lawyers appeared before a provincial court judge to recommend an appropriate sentence. Crown attorney, John Diamond, recommended seven-and-a-half years in prison. Rayner's lawyer, Thane MacEachern is recommending three years.

In an agreed statement of facts read out in court, the Crown outlined a series of conflicting stories Rayner had told medical staff and police investigators.

Police now know that Rayner gave birth to three full-term babies: a boy in 2014, a girl in 2015 and another boy in 2016.

Baby Bentley

The court heard that the first baby was a boy she named Bentley. His remains were found earlier this year in a box in a shed on the property where Rayner had once lived.

Police searched for evidence at a home where Rayner lived. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Diamond told the court Rayner had been seen by a doctor during this pregnancy and had planned to have a C-section to deliver the baby. Diamond said Rayner gave birth on Feb. 5, 2014 and placed the baby in a box, which she put in the shed. Diamond said Rayner told medical staff she had had a miscarriage while on vacation in Florida and had spent the night in hospital there. 

Rayner later told police that she actually delivered this baby at her home in Charlottetown. She told investigators the baby's eyelids fluttered after birth and that she attempted to clear the baby's mouth and perform CPR on the newborn, but she did not seek medical assistance. 

Diamond said there is no record of the birth or death of this baby.

Baby Tinley

Medical staff were told Rayner was pregnant a second time in August 2014. She was seen in the emergency department at the QEH with shoulder pain and told medical staff there that she was pregnant, but there are no health records to confirm this pregnancy. 

Diamond said Rayner gave birth to a girl she called Tinley on Jan. 21, 2015. According to the agreed statement of facts, Rayner wrapped the baby in a blanket and kept her in her room for about a month, then placed the baby in a plastic tote and put it in the basement of the house. The remains of that baby were discovered in Sept. 2018.

The court had no information surrounding the circumstances of Baby Tinley's death. 

Baby Ezra 

According to court documents, a third baby she named Ezra was born on Nov. 17, 2016. Rayner had been seen by doctors during her pregnancy, and a C-section was planned, but Rayner began missing appointments. 

Diamond said Rayner gave birth in the bathroom of her home where she wrapped the baby in a blanket and kept him there for four days before placing him in a plastic tote and putting it in the basement.

Initially Rayner told medical staff that she had given birth in Halifax and that she gave the baby to a family member. Diamond said Rayner's doctor became worried about the baby's whereabouts and contacted child protection services, which determined there was no record of Rayner giving birth in Halifax or giving the baby up for adoption. Rayner later told her doctor she had experienced a miscarriage in Oct. 2016. 

It was then police were called in to investigate.

According to the agreed statement of facts, Rayner later told investigators this baby was born at her home in Charlottetown, as was the case with the other two pregnancies. She said that Ezra had cried for 15 to 20 minutes after the birth, then just stopped breathing. She told police she doesn't know what caused his death. She didn't call for help or medical assistance at the time.

'Unspeakable'

The court heard that Rayner underwent a mental health assessment, which determined she was fit to stand trial. But the assessment could not conclude whether Rayner was suffering from a mental disorder that would make her not criminally responsible at the time of the incidents.

The psychiatrist noted there were several inconsistencies with her accounts of the births and she also admitted to lying to police about some of the details. The psychiatrist told the court it can't be determined which, if any account, was accurate. 

The mental health assessment also described Rayner's mental state as "disturbed."

"Shannon Rayner is very smart. She presents well. She plays innocent, but she's smart and she's manipulated people for a long time," said Crown attorney John Diamond.

"The death of an infant at any time is tragic," he said. "The fact that the mother of a child is involved is unspeakable."

'She needs help'

Rayner's lawyer Thane MacEachern called the case "disturbing" but said, "She needs help. There's no other way to state that."

Rayner chose not to make any statement to the judge in court Monday.

Judge John Douglas said he needs time to consider the arguments and will sentence Rayner on Nov. 6. She will remain in custody until then.

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