An Alabama Woman Got Pregnant While In Jail. She Has No Memory of Having Sex.
Since 2017, LaToni Daniel has been incarcerated pretrial in a capital murder case. During that time, Daniel became pregnant, and she just delivered a baby boy. But as she brings in new life, she also faces the death penalty.
A year after arriving at the Coosa County jail in Alabama, LaToni Daniel found out that she was pregnant. It was December 2018, and the 26-year-old had been held at the rural jail without bail, facing a capital murder charge.
But Daniel told her attorneys she didn’t remember having sex while she was incarcerated. Her lawyers say she did recall that she had been taking prescribed sedatives for a disorder that causes seizures and that the side effects from the medication prolonged her sleep. This week, she gave birth to a baby boy. His father remains unknown.
“She claims she has no memory of having sex at all, so what we’re assuming based on the information we have is that with some of the medication, she was knocked out and someone raped her,” Mickey McDermott, an attorney preparing a possible civil suit for Daniel, told The Appeal.
Based on her May 25 due date, Daniel’s baby would have been conceived in August. In December, when she was four months along, she was abruptly transferred to the nearby Talladega County jail, where she was given a pregnancy test. According to Jon Taylor, Daniel’s attorney in her criminal case, Coosa County Sheriff Terry Wilson (who retired in January) advised officials at Talladega to administer the test. Chief Deputy Joshua Tubbs of the Talladega County Sheriff’s Department told The Appeal that Daniel was moved because of an ongoing investigation, whose details were unknown to him.
McDermott said Daniel had not been taking the sedative before her incarceration. She had been prescribed the medication once jailed at Coosa County.
In March, when Daniel was seven months pregnant, her attorneys asked that a judge set bail so she could give birth outside the jail and care for the child while she awaited trial. According to Taylor, she was transported to the hospital on Tuesday afternoon, where she gave birth. The judge has yet to make a bail determination.
Daniel and her former boyfriend Ladaniel Tuck are facing capital murder charges for the December 2017 killing of 87-year-old Thomas Virgil Chandler. Prosecutors allege that Daniel shot and robbed Chandler, a retired businessman and beloved resident of Coosa County, when he was on his way to the grocery store. According to Taylor, a police investigator testified during a preliminary hearing that Daniel told him she was in the car when Tuck shot Chandler and had no knowledge that a murder was about to occur. In an interview with The Appeal, Coosa County District Attorney Jeff Willis said, “You may have read somewhere that she was a getaway driver. That is not a correct statement.” He declined to comment further, citing the pending trial.
Shortly after Chandler was killed, Daniel was arrested and remanded to the county jail without bail; in April 2018, a grand jury indicted her for capital murder. In Alabama, people can be sentenced to death if they are found to be an accomplice to a murder that also involves robbery, kidnapping, rape, or burglary.
Willis confirmed that there is an investigation into Daniel’s pregnancy, but he declined to say what it entailed. McDermott said he has not been contacted regarding that investigation. The current sheriff, Michael Howell, declined to comment on the allegations that Daniel was drugged and raped by a jail employee. Alabama law prohibits jail employees from having sexual contact with a prisoner, even if it’s consensual.
In an April 2019 letter to the Talladega County jail, McDermott said Daniel had faced several challenges since becoming aware of her pregnancy, including “lack of medical treatment, missed doctors’ appointments and abusive behavior at the hands of a Nurse.” McDermott also said Daniel regularly had to plead with jail staff to take her to appointments and that she was underweight.
Tubbs, the Talladega County chief deputy, said this was not the case. He told The Appeal that Daniel received medical care from a registered nurse at the jail and was taken to medical appointments by the Coosa County Sheriff’s Department.
In his request for bond, Taylor wrote that Daniel “would be in a far better position not only to have her child and recover therefrom if released on a reasonable bond but further [she] would be in a position to make any custodial arrangements for her child should she be convicted and required to serve time.” Taylor also argues that being free on bond would allow his client to better assist with preparation for her trial, which has been stayed since she found out she was pregnant. Taylor says it will take about six weeks after Daniel gives birth to start the psychological and intellectual evaluations needed to assess her competency and build a possible defense.
But because Daniel is facing a capital murder charge, the likelihood that she will be released on bond is much lower than if she had been charged with a lesser offense. In Alabama, once a defendant is indicted for a capital crime, that person is presumed guilty for the purpose of setting bail and must overcome that enormous burden. If a judge does rule in a defendant’s favor, state law says bail must be set at a minimum of $50,000 for capital cases.
If Daniel is found guilty at trial, the state’s sentencing guidelines stipulate that the jury will vote to either sentence her to death or to life without the possibility of parole. Willis has announced that he intends to pursue the death penalty for Daniel and Tuck.
As Coosa County’s district attorney, Willis has nearly unlimited discretion in deciding to seek the death penalty. With respect to Daniel’s alleged role in the crime, he had the option to pursue lesser charges such as manslaughter, first-degree murder, or second-degree murder. Aside from Daniel and Tuck, Willis has sought the death penalty one other time in the last five years, according to the county’s Circuit Court clerk.
In Alabama, new death sentences have dropped sharply—there were just three in 2018 and two in 2017—though there is no available data on how often prosecutors in the state unsuccessfully seek death. Death penalty cases are extraordinarily costly to the public as the county is usually responsible for funding defense attorneys, experts, and the prosecution because many death penalty defendants, like Daniel, are poor.
Nationally, support for the death penalty has waned; a 2018 Gallup study found that a record number of Americans believe it is applied unfairly. With no evidence that capital punishment deters crime, its use has declined and executions have fallen to record low numbers in the modern death penalty era. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have abolished or overturned the practice.
“I guess it’s somewhat surprising that it came out of the grand jury as capital murder and even more surprising they’re going after the death penalty,” Taylor told The Appeal. “There’s nothing in my mind that [says] she should qualify for the death penalty. … I believe it was unknowing conduct and I believe she was acting under duress.”