An Indiana woman was convicted Tuesday of second-degree murder for the 2001 death of her 10-week-old daughter in Desert Hot Springs.
Jurors deliberated about an hour before finding Krissy Lynn Werntz, 34, guilty in the death of her daughter, Montana, whose decomposed remains were found in an Arkansas storage unit a year after she was killed. The baby's father, Jason Michael Hann, was convicted of murder last December for inflicting the fatal injuries and was sentenced to death in February.
Werntz, who sobbed when the verdict was read, faces 15 years to life in prison, with sentencing set for June 27. She had been free on her own recognizance but taken into custody after the verdict was announced.
A female juror told City News Service it was an emotional case, "where the defendant abused the privilege of being a mother and protecting her child."
Werntz chose a "gypsy lifestyle" with Hann over their children, Deputy District Attorney Lisa DiMaria told jurors in her closing argument Monday. She said the couple traveled the country and their first child, Jason, was born in Ohio.
Several weeks later, in July 1999 in Vermont, the infant suffered ultimately fatal injuries, and Werntz -- who later claimed she thought he may have been bitten by a spider -- didn't call authorities and hid the baby's remains by keeping them with the couple, DiMaria said.
On Dec. 1, 2000, their daughter Montana was born. The next month, her leg was "snapped in half like a twig," and Werntz ignored what happened, DiMaria said.
Montana died Feb. 10, 2001, and as before, Werntz didn't call for help, concealing the baby from law enforcement, DiMaria said.
"The only reasonable interpretation is the defendant was part and parcel of all of this," she said, telling jurors "the only way that her (Montana's) suffering ended was when her parents ended her life."
She said even if Werntz found her daughter dead when she returned from work, as she told a detective, "the truth is this baby was abused and killed while in the care and custody of the defendant and Hann."
"The only way healthy baby Montana died was the defendant contributed to her death -- either she co-abused the child, or failed to protect the child," DiMaria said.
Even after the deaths of two children, Werntz -- who wasn't mentally "slow" -- stayed with Hann, the prosecutor said.
"It was like some twisted, baby-killing Bonnie and Clyde," she said.
Montana's remains were kept in a plastic storage container in a trailer in a Arkansas storage unit. But when Hann and Werntz stopped making payments, the trailer was auctioned off in February 2002 to an Arkansas man, who found the baby's body.
Hann and Werntz were arrested in April 2002 at a motel in Portland, Maine. The following day, police found their son Jason's remains in a plastic container in a storage unit in Arizona.
In February 2006 in Vermont, Hann pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in Jason's death and was sentenced to 27-30 years in prison. Werntz wasn't charged in that case.
The couple's third child, a month-old boy named Michael, had skull, femur and rib fractures when he was found. That boy survived and was later adopted by his foster mother.
Defense attorney Naomi Coady said in her closing argument that there was no direct or circumstantial evidence "to show Ms. Werntz knew Jason Hann was going to abuse and/or kill their daughter" when she went to work on Feb. 10, 2001.
"If she knew that when she went to work that day that Jason Hann would kill their daughter, you think she would have gone to work?" Coady asked.
She said Werntz's decision to keep the baby's remains with her was "evidence of a grieving mother ... everyone grieves differently."
When Werntz had a chance to "throw (Hann) under the bus," she told a detective she never saw him abuse any of their children, and hadn't been given proof he'd done so, her attorney said.
"It doesn't make sense that the person you've seen feed your baby, diaper your baby, love your baby, it doesn't make sense that person would be a monster and kill your babies," the defense attorney said.
Hann was in prison for Jason's death when Vermont law enforcement authorities agreed to extradite him to California to stand trial for Montana's death. He and Werntz were indicted by a grand jury in September 2009.
– City News Service.