Woman serving prison sentence in death of newborn may see early release

Shakopee women's prison
A view of the Shakopee women's prison in 2006. A woman serving a 25-year sentence for killing her newborn amid what she described as an abusive relationship is on the verge of early release from a Minnesota prison.
Laura McCallum | MPR News 2006

A woman serving a 25-year sentence for killing her newborn amid what she described as an abusive relationship is on the verge of early release from a Minnesota prison.

The Minnesota Board of Pardons appears ready to commute the sentence of Samantha Heiges, who was convicted in Dakota County in 2008 and has been in the Shakopee prison since 2009.

It stems from the 2005 bathtub drowning death of the baby she had just delivered. Heiges, 35, would qualify for immediate supervised release. She was slated to reach that point in her second-degree intentional murder sentence in August 2025.

“Even though this happened over 16 years ago, there isn’t a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse or guilt for what happened,” Heiges said. “This is a moment in my life that still weighs heavy on my heart and soul and I will never forgive myself for what happened.”

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The board of the governor, state attorney general and Minnesota Supreme Court chief justice ordered a release plan from the Department of Corrections ahead of final action next month. All spoke in favor of commutation.

Heiges maintains she was repeatedly abused by her boyfriend and her life was threatened if she didn’t kill the newborn in 2005. She said he punched her in the stomach, choked her and otherwise hurt her during the pregnancy. Charges against the boyfriend were dismissed after Heiges refused to testify against him.

A University of Minnesota Law School team took up her case.

The lawyers assisting Heiges note that the sentence was far stiffer than she faced had she pleaded guilty to a crime she insists was committed under duress. A plea deal that Heiges rejected would have landed her a four-year sentence, they said.

According to the written materials supplied to the pardons board, the prosecutor in the case opposed commutation but the judge who presided over trial and sentenced Heiges didn’t object to the request.

Heiges said being out of prison will allow her to assume a bigger role in raising her other child — a now-teenaged daughter she had prior to her conviction. That girl is being raised by Heiges’ mother, who spoke in favor of the early release.

Gov. Tim Walz, the board chair, said the case is a human tragedy by any measure.

“At this point, at this far down in your sentence, I’m not certain that I believe society is served well by you being separated from your daughter. I think being able to parent and the ability to continue on there is strong,” he said, stopping short of suggesting a full commutation that would remove her from any supervision.

He said Heiges has taken responsibility and the record reflects she has been a model prisoner.

“This is happening because we believe you’re going to be successful and you’re going to make this work and society is better served,” Walz said.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea and Attorney General Keith Ellison also spoke in favor, which is key because commutations and pardons must be unanimous.

A final vote was put off until the corrections agency develops the release plan that sets out conditions. The board meets again in mid-December and Heiges would leave prison soon after any vote granting her a commutation.