Baby kidnapper expresses remorse in interview

November 14, 2004|EMILY BURTON

STANFORD - Tanya Shelton was dry-eyed during her sentencing Friday to 20 years in prison for kidnapping a newborn baby in April while she was a nurse's aide at Fort Logan Hospital.

She didn't leave the courtroom in tears as her mother had, but a quick cigarette later, Shelton emotionally discussed the crime she says devastated two families and stripped away her own life.

During an exclusive interview with The Advocate at the Lincoln County Regional Jail, Shelton said she was sorry for what she had done and thought her sentence was fair.

"When I look at the crime, I can say 'yes, the sentence was just.' But I also see people killing their children and getting 10 years, and that bothers me," Shelton said.


Shelton has been incarcerated since April 2, the day of the kidnapping, after Stanford police called her cell phone and convinced her to turn herself in at a truck stop on I-65 near the Tennessee border. Earlier that morning she had entered the maternity ward of the hospital dressed in her hospital uniform, though off-duty, and taken day-old Grayci Barrows. The abandoned newborn was later found in a Bowling Green alley by a woman walking her dog.

Class B kidnapping

Shelton was originally charged with Class A felony kidnapping and burglary, but in a plea agreement approved by Grayci's parents, Cory and Samantha Barrows of Casey County, she pleaded guilty to Class B kidnapping. The amended charge lowered Shelton's possible maximum sentence from life down to 20 years. The Barrows have not commented publicly on the deal, before or after Shelton's sentencing.

Defense attorney Ted Dean of Harrodsburg addressed the court Friday on Shelton's behalf. Shelton said she had been worried of misspeaking in front of the audience and media but emotionally "held up well considering the circumstances."

Dean said his client "apologizes to the Baby Grayci family, apologizes to her family, apologizes to the citizens of Lincoln County," and has nothing but remorse for her actions.

"And obviously if we could take it back, we would in a heartbeat," Dean told Lincoln Circuit Judge Robert Gillium.

Shelton later agreed, "I can't imagine what [the family] went through. I do wish I could take it all back."

Gillium approved the recommended 20-year sentence. But the judge told Shelton she should consider herself lucky the Barrows family had agreed to the deal. She faced a life sentence if convicted of kidnapping Grayci and causing serious threat to the infant's life.

That was a strong possibility, said Commonwealth's Attorney Eddie Montgomery, since the newborn had been found exposed and hypothermic.

Gillium seemed to agree and accompanied the final sentencing with a scathing review.

"You should be going away for a lot longer than 20 years," Gillium said. "You should be very grateful that the parents of this child" accepted the deal. "I would not permit this if they did not agree to it. ... You are very lucky."

Dean said his client was grateful.

"We wanted to get an offer that was fair to her circumstances, and I believe we did so here."

Up for parole in April 2008

Shelton, who celebrated her 25th birthday in jail, will be up for parole in April 2008 but said she sees little to look forward to. She did not shy away from the prison-cold truth that kidnapping the baby had destroyed her former life.

"I lost everything. I lost the love of my life, my home, the trust of my family. There are a lot of children in my family, and everyone will look at me funny for the rest of my life. It was a big breach of trust, especially with my mother. It's hard on my mom."

Her mother, Sherry Emerson, who has retained her own nurse's position at Fort Logan Hospital, was escorted by family members from the courthouse after the sentencing. She was quickly helped into a waiting vehicle and left without public comment.

Both of her parents were hurt by her actions but have been supportive, Shelton said. Her dad visits weekly, she said, and Emerson stops by twice a week. Shelton's former live-in boyfriend, however, has never visited.

"It's destroyed him," she said with tears.

According to Shelton, she and her boyfriend had been through difficult times only a month before the kidnapping. On March 12, she said her son was stillborn one month shy of his due date. Baby Jonathan had been a wonderful pregnancy, Shelton said. His nursery had even been ready for his arrival, decorated with rubber duckies.

Authorities said, however, that Shelton was not pregnant when her co-workers at Fort Logan threw her a baby shower.

Shelton said she hasn't fully dealt with the loss of her son, but that was in no way to be blamed for her decision to take Grayci.

"I try to think about the good things," she said, remembering Jonathan. "I try to think about when it was good. My life was perfect."

Heading to Pewee Valley

Now she faces a hard future at Pewee Valley penitentiary for women. Shelton admitted it could be tough at first, but she hopes the prison will also afford her a new career, perhaps in business.

"I have to get a whole new education," she said. "I always thought my calling was health care, and I can never do that again."

At least her incarceration will bring an end to the heavy press coverage of the case, she said.

"No more court appearances, no more fighting with the media, no more reporters calling for interviews," Shelton said. "I'm glad that's over. I feel that further media coverage only glorifies my crime and makes it difficult for the two families to put this behind them..." she wrote in a statement.

Shelton said she believes the attention has long kept old wounds open, and it was now time for quiet solace.

"There are two families that desperately need to heal," she said.

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