Fort Collins, CO – The biological mother of a newborn baby girl found dead inside a plastic bag at a Colorado reservoir in 1996 has been sentenced to just three years in a halfway house for killing her daughter and covering up her murder for 23 years.
Two 11-year-old boys playing on the shores of the Horsetooth Reservoir discovered the infant’s body on Aug. 24, 1996, Larimer County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) Lieutenant Andy Josey said during a press conference in October of 2019, according to KUSA.
Investigators determined the baby girl, whose umbilical cord was still attached when the boys found her, died by suffocation or asphyxia within three days of her birth.
She became known as “Baby Faith” by local community and area law enforcement officers, all of whom came together to give her a funeral and burial at Fort Collins’ Roselawn Cemetery, the Coloradoan reported.
“I still see her…A case like this one is never forgotten,” said Lt. Josey, who has since retired. “I came to know a newborn girl who was left by choice and not by chance, and I knew then as I know today, she didn’t deserve to be left alone.”
Baby Faith’s identity remained a mystery for over two decades.
Investigators resubmitted her DNA to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 2016, KUSA reported.
The following year, new technology revealed that the CBI had identified five people who Baby Faith was possibly related to.
Investigators tracked three of those individuals to Minnesota in October of 2019 and went to speak with them, but determined they were not involved in the case, KUSA reported.
But when they spoke with a fourth person in Maryland, they were told that 46-year-old Jennifer Katalinich might have the information they were looking for.
Katalinich, a married mother-of-two living in Erie, Colorado, agreed to speak with investigators.
During her sentencing hearing on Thursday, prosecutors explained what occurred on Aug. 21, 1996 – the day Katalinich gave birth to a six-pound, four-ounce baby girl on a towel in her bedroom, the Coloradoan reported.
LCSO Lead Investigator Rita Servin testified that Katalinich was an 18-year-old Colorado State University sophomore at the time, and was known by her maiden name of Jennifer Tjornehoj.
She was alone when she gave birth to Baby Faith, Investigator Servin said, according to the Coloradoan.
Just minutes after the healthy baby was born, Katalinich placed a plastic bag over her mouth and nose and smothered her to death.
She later told investigators she didn’t even look to see if her child was a boy or a girl, the Coloradoan reported.
Katalinich then stuffed her daughter’s body into a garbage bag along with the towel and headed off to the reservoir, Investigator Servin said.
When she arrived, she secured rocks to the bag and hurled it into the water, then headed back to the home she shared with her unwitting roommate, the Coloradoan reported.
“She threw her away forever,” Investigator Servin testified. “At least, she thought she did.”
Katalinich told investigators in 2019 that she didn’t take care of herself during her pregnancy, so she didn’t believe her child had been healthy when she was born, the Coloradoan reported.
She never explained why she murdered her daughter.
“I just couldn’t have a baby,” Katalinich told investigators.
According to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Richart Martinez, a neonaticide expert who testified for the defense, Katalinich was in denial that she was even pregnant in the months leading up to Baby Faith’s birth, the Coloradoan reported.
She claimed she took multiple pregnancy tests, but that they all failed to detect her pregnancy, thereby fueling her denial, Martinez said.
He also noted that Colorado did not have a Safe Haven law back in 1996.
Investigator Servin said that Katalinich was living “the American Dream” when police caught up with her in Erie, the Coloradoan reported.
By that time, she had earned a wildlife biology degree, had gotten married, and had a four-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son at home.
Katalinich was arrested on Nov. 5, 2019, and later pleaded guilty to felony tampering with physical evidence and criminally negligent homicide of an at-risk juvenile, the Coloradoan reported.
She faced a potential maximum sentence of 15 years between both charges.
The judge sentenced Katalinich to just 90 days in jail followed by eight years of probation on the negligent homicide charge, the Coloradoan reported.
She was sentenced to three years in a residential community corrections program for the tampering offense, but her time in both sentences will run concurrently.
The residential program is a halfway house setting, KUSA reported.
Offenders involved in the program are required to gain employment and may be required to attend counseling, substance abuse treatment, or educational classes, according to the Colorado Legal Defense Group website.
“Once individuals have demonstrated they can follow the program rules, they may be eligible to spend more time in the community,” the website notes. “A defender sentenced to a [community corrections program] may be eligible for time credit deductions of up to 10 days for each month of placement, based on the administrator’s assessment of progress.”
Following successful completion of such programming, Katalinich’s probation officer could potentially “submit a petition for early termination of sentence to the court and notify the district attorney and the defendant, subject to victim notification,” according to the Colorado Legal Defense Group.
The court would ultimately decide whether or not to grant an early termination of sentence.
Katalinich was also ordered to serve 500 hours of community service once she is released onto probation, the Coloradoan reported.
Most of the people who turned out in support of Baby Faith during the sentencing hearing were the law enforcement officers who fought for her for the past 24 years – both current and retired, the Coloradoan reported.
Josey has attended nearly all of her court appearances, and said he still visits Baby Faith’s grave.
“I’m not at all surprised by the lack of prison time,” he told the Coloradoan. “I understand the judge’s position…I could see this very difficult for her.”