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Jury finds Amber Craker guilty of capital murder for killing of newborn daughter

ABILENE, Texas - A jury found 20-year-old Amber Craker guilty of capital murder and tampering with evidence Thursday for killing her newborn daughter on Jan. 18, 2016.

The jury started deliberating at about 10:30 a.m. and returned the verdict after about five hours. Craker will be sentenced to life in prison without parole for the capital murder charge.

Craker's defense originally elected for jurors to determine a sentence for any convictions less than capital murder, but withdrew that and opted for an agreement with District Attorney James Hicks. Craker was sentenced to 19 years in prison, and that will run concurrent with her life sentence.

Craker has the opportunity to appeal her conviction, but with the sentence agreed upon, the day was wrapped at about 4 p.m.

Earlier:

Amber Craker wore different clothes Thursday for the first time during her capital murder trial for the killing of her newborn daughter.

The prosecution and defense both rested Wednesday, and closing statements began right at 9 a.m.

Jury deliberations began at 10:34 a.m.

Craker, now 20, was 18 at the time she was accused of killing her newborn daughter, Ashley Cate, on Jan. 18, 2016.

Taylor County District Attorney James Hicks elected to present his statement second.

Craker's attorney, Trey Keith, started by saying he's been looking forward to these particular comments for 18 months.

"It doesn't get any more disturbing, doesn't it," Keith said to the jury, calling the discovery of Ashley Cate's body in a trash can on Jan. 18, 2016 "sacrilegious and abominable."

"We wouldn't be human if we weren't moved to indignation, anger, passion, and sadness," Keith said.

Those emotional elements, he said, were important to set aside so that jurors could look at the facts. He said his goal was to desensitize the jury to those emotions.

Keith said his biggest adversary is the past year and a half of social media posts and news coverage about the case. But he said jurors never learned that the cause of Ashley's death was undetermined and that Craker had a low IQ until the start of the trial.

Keith said he may sound critical of Hicks' arguments and testimony given by Abilene police, but said that "they're big boys, they can take it. I like these guys."

Addressing the jury, Keith said he believed Abilene Police Detective Stacey Cisneros was leading Craker during the interviews conducted while she was in recovery at Hendrick Medical Center. He reminded jurors that Cisneros was unaware of Craker's hemorrhagic shock and morphine dosage, and said Cisneros didn't know she had an emotional or learning disability.

Keith argues that Craker's confession wasn't reliable because of her inconsistency throughout the interview. He said she only made up explanations to answer police questions.

"That interrogation was more of an indoctrination," Keith told the jurors.

Keith then held up the knife used to kill Ashley and said DNA from Ashley and Craker were found on it, but that only the baby's DNA was found on the blade, with Craker's blood found on the handle. He referred to testimony from a forensic analyst that no other DNA was found, but that someone holding the knife might not have left a trace of DNA.

Craker's defense then asked why certain items weren't presented as evidence and why others that were checked in as evidence weren't referenced again. Specifically, Keith asked where Ashley's birth and death certificates were. He also questioned who the biological father of Ashley was.

Keith called them the puzzle pieces we can find: a bloody sock, the bloody pair of purple panties, and the directional blood spatter.

"What the hell was the purpose of that? I don't know. To persuade you it was evidence that mattered?" Keith asked the jury. He questioned why DNA on the sock and panties weren't tested. He also questioned where the blood spatter came from, saying the directional motion of spatter in the bathroom raised questions of the prosecution's account of how the baby was killed.

"Wouldn't you want to know it's Ashley's to prove [she had] a heartbeat?" Keith asked the jury, arguing that the state didn't adequately prove Ashley was alive when she was born.

Keith argued that law enforcement was picking and choosing evidence and called Craker's interrogation "the most unreliable, fed-to interview ... straight out of a John Grisham novel."

Keith concluded by asking the jury, "Is she the sociopath the state would have you believe?" before trying to sow additional seeds of doubt. He said it wouldn't be just to Ashley to send her mother to prison if there was any doubt. He then said, "When you don't know, there's only one verdict."

While Keith took more than an hour to present his closing arguments, Hicks' statements were comparatively brief.

"I've been on this case for 20 months," Hicks told the jury.

He gave an anecdote of growing up collecting cotton over time and then getting paid for the bulk. He said his work was done and he was now giving the case to the jury.

"The puzzle goes together pretty well, doesn't it?" Hicks said, adding that jurors could be missing a few pieces and still be certain. "I think I've brought you to that point."

Hicks said he gave the jurors a "toolbox of charges" and laid out the case that Craker killed her daughter by illustrating the stabbing motions with a baby doll and the knife.

He held the baby doll and said "Would it offend you if I hit the baby five times in the neck?"

Hicks told the jury they can make reasonable inferences based on common experience, and argued that he had presented enough evidence for them to make an appropriate decision.

Craker is indicted on three charges: capital murder, injury to a child, and tampering with evidence. Hicks next clarified that the first two charges don't apply to an "unborn child" if committed by the mother, but that the third charge can involve the corpse. He made the case for tampering with evidence by saying Craker put the baby in the trash can with the intention of waiting for someone else in the house to take it out.

Hicks then countered the idea that Ashley may have been stillborn by saying the medical examiner's office only returned an "undetermined" cause of death. But he said all the evidence points to Ashley being alive at birth. He said stillborn babies have macerated skin, which Ashley didn't. He also said premature babies are born with transluscent skin, and pointed out that Ashley's skin was pink.

Hicks said all of Ashley's vital organs were in good condition.

Hicks said Craker knew right from wrong, referring to testimony from her special education teacher. He said she only changed her attitude and started "hollering" during the interview when she was "caught in a lie."

"Baby Ashley's last few minutes at birth are what got her killed," Hicks told the jury, wrapping up his closing argument. He said if Ashley wasn't showing signs of life at birth, there wasn't a reason for Craker to stab her multiple times and "ruin her throat."

He pumped his fist like a heartbeat while telling the jury they have all of the evidence they need. He said jurors heard Amber get "pissed off" during the interview, and that on Jan. 18, 2016, she snapped.

"And it stops," Hicks said, holding his fist closed.

Judge James Eidson gave the charges to the jury, and they began deliberating shortly before 11 a.m.

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