Annette Morales-Rodriguez, 33, faces one count each of first-degree intentional homicide while armed and first-degree intentional homicide of an unborn child while armed in the death of Maritza Ramirez-Cruz and the boy she was set to deliver next week. Morales-Rodriguez faces mandatory life in prison if convicted.
Morales-Rodriguez made a brief court appearance Monday, standing silent as her bail was set at $1 million. Online court records didn't list an attorney for her, and the Milwaukee public defender's office voicemail wouldn't accept messages Monday afternoon.
"I don't know what she had in her mind," said Maria Garcia, 44, who lives next to Morales-Rodriguez and described her as her best friend.
According to the criminal complaint, Morales-Rodriguez told detectives that her boyfriend wanted a son but she couldn't get pregnant. She told him she was pregnant anyway, but started to grow desperate as what would be her due date approached.
She told investigators she planned for two weeks to find a pregnant woman, take the baby and make it hers, the complaint said.
Morales-Rodriguez drove around on Wednesday searching for a pregnant woman, but found none, authorities said. On Thursday she drove around a nonprofit organization that provides Hispanics with health care and found Ramirez-Cruz.
The 23-year-old had moved from Puerto Rico to join her childhood sweetheart, Christian Mercado, said Mercado's father, Carlos Mercado. They already had three children together and Ramirez-Cruz was carrying their fourth.
Morales-Rodriguez told detectives she thought about telling her boyfriend the truth, but decided against it and offered Ramirez-Cruz a ride.
Telling Ramirez-Cruz she needed to change her shoes, she drove them to her weathered two-story house on Milwaukee's south side. Ramirez-Cruz went inside to use the bathroom. When she emerged, Morales-Rodriguez was waiting for her with a baseball bat.
The complaint said Morales-Rodriguez began to bludgeon her. Ramirez-Cruz fell to the ground. Morales-Rodriguez straddled the younger woman and choked her until she passed out, the complaint said. Morales-Rodriguez then duct-taped Ramirez-Cruz's feet and hands and taped over her mouth and nose. She cut her open with the knife, the complaint said, telling detectives she was trying to imitate a procedure she had seen on the Discovery Channel.
When she pulled the fetus out, the baby wasn't breathing, Morales-Rodriguez said. She smeared some of Ramirez-Cruz's blood around her thighs to make people think she herself was bleeding from giving birth. Then she called 911 and said she'd given birth to a stillborn. She was taken to a hospital, but left before she was fully examined, the complaint said.
An autopsy the next day revealed that the baby wasn't the product of a natural birth. Police returned to Morales-Rodriguez's house that day and took her back to the hospital. An examination verified she hadn't given birth and officers arrested her.
Morales-Rodriguez is due back in court Oct. 19 for a preliminary hearing.
Similar cases of women taking an unborn child from a mother's womb were reported in Massachusetts and Oregon in 2009, in Pennsylvania in 2007, in Illinois in 2006 and Missouri in 2004.
Garcia said she was convinced Morales-Ramirez was pregnant, saying she even rubbed her belly. The last time Garcia saw her, on Oct. 3, Morales-Ramirez told her she was going to have a Cesarean section in two weeks. But she also seemed depressed, refusing to come out of her house to even join Garcia for a walk.
"She just wanted to be in the house," Garcia said, tears filling her eyes. "I'm so confused I don't know what to do."
Carlos Mercado, 59, said he couldn't stand up when he heard Ramirez-Cruz was dead.
"My heart, oh my God, it's hurting me. I can't sleep," he said.
His son, who declined to speak with reporters at his home Monday, must now raise the couple's three children alone without much money, Carlos Mercado said. The oldest child is only six.
"He'll have to be the mother and father. I don't know how he's going to make it. He's got to grow them up, take them to school, get them in the shower," Mercado said. "He's real sad. He's real hurt."