GREENVILLE, SC (WYFF) - A woman accused of giving birth to a baby in a toilet at an entertainment center during a circus and then leaving him pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced Wednesday afternoon.
Jessica Blackham was 24 when she delivered the baby boy in a stall in the BI-LO Center restroom in February 2011, according to investigators. She was arrested several days later.
Blackham was charged with felony child abuse and unlawful neglect and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
On Wednesday, Blackham pleaded guilty to causing great bodily injury to a child. Judge Edward "Ned" Miller sentenced her to five years in prison, suspended to one year of house arrest and three years probation, so she will serve no further time in jail.
When Miller asked her why she left the baby, she said, "I don't know -- didn't realize because of loss of blood (I was) not thinking clearly, not able to make a decision. I came close to dying. Almost didn't make it because of amount of blood I lost."
Blackham said tearfully, "I love my son dearly. Kills me to know for the first few minutes of his life, I could not provide the care he needed. I thank God someone was there to save his precious life. I'm very sorry things happened the way they did. I wish I could go back in time - that I knew I was pregnant and could call for help."
Investigators said her 6-pound baby boy was purple and had labored breathing when a cleaning crew found him partially submerged in the toilet, but with his head above water. Doctors estimated the infant was in the toilet for more than an hour before he was found. His body temperature was 85 degrees.
Blackham later checked herself in to a hospital, but she continued to say she did not recall giving birth to the baby.
She was at the circus with her sister and her family, but her other child, a 4-year-old daughter, was not with her, according to investigators.
Blackham's mother, Anita McAuliffe, said her daughter had no signs of pregnancy before giving birth. Blackham was separated from her husband, Thomas Blackham, for nearly a year before the birth at the BI-LO Center.
Thomas Blackham said his wife's mental condition went downhill while they were married and he had urged her to get help.
Jason Jones, who said he dated Blackham briefly, was determined by DNA testing to be the infant's father.
A gag order prevents disclosure of what has happened to the baby since his birth, but we have learned the child, who is now almost 2, is living in a loving home.