MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A woman accused of stealing her half-sister’s newborn boy and abandoning the infant behind a gas station in frigid temperatures made her first court appearance in Wisconsin on Friday to answer a federal kidnapping charge.
Kristen Smith, 31, could face life in prison if she’s convicted. She made her initial appearance in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker after federal marshals transported her to Madison from West Branch, Iowa, where she faces a state child endangerment charge. Authorities allege the Denver woman took the baby from a Wisconsin home and left him in Iowa as investigators closed in on her. A police chief found the baby alive and well 29 hours later.
Friday’s court proceeding, typically held to establish the schedule for a case, lasted less than five minutes. Smith’s public defender, Kelly Welsh, told Crocker that Smith’s family was trying to hire a defense attorney. The judge said he didn’t want to schedule anything until that attorney was in place and ordered Smith to remain in custody until the lawyer can participate in a detention hearing.
The baby’s parents, 18-year-old Brianna Marshall and 23-year-old Robert Powell, and other family members looked on from the gallery as Smith sat quietly. Dressed in a grey top and black slacks with her hair tied back in a ponytail, she appeared relaxed.
The parents left without talking to reporters, but the baby’s great-uncle, Mark Bennett, said he was disgusted with Smith’s demeanor.
“She won’t get away with this one,” Bennett said. “We’re going to be here every day.”
According to Bennett and court documents, Smith was visiting Marshall, Powell and the couple’s 4-day old son, Kayden Powell, at Bennett’s home in the Town of Beloit on the evening of Feb. 5. When Marshall woke up early the next morning, she discovered both Smith and Kayden were gone.
Police contacted Smith via cellphone an hour after Marshall called 911 and told Smith to stop at the nearest gas station for questioning. An officer met her and arrested her after discovering she was wanted in Texas for forging government documents.
Police searched for Kayden along Smith’s route from Wisconsin to Iowa, and the West Branch Police chief ultimately discovered the newborn in a crate behind another gas station about 500 yards from the one where Smith was arrested.
Authorities have not disclosed a motive in the case, but they said a search of Smith’s cellphone and Facebook page revealed messages in which she claimed to have given birth on Feb. 5, the day before she allegedly stole the newborn.