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At a relatively well-attended hearing Friday during which some members of the gallery were visibly distraught, a Prince Frederick woman accepted a plea in a case related to the deaths of her two infant sons.

Melissa Schrae Bowen, 34, of Prince Frederick accepted an offer from the state as part of an Alford plea, according to which the prosecution will seek 20 years imprisonment at the Division of Corrections for the involuntary manslaughter of “Baby Boy A” and “Baby Boy B.”

An Alford plea recognizes that the state has sufficient evidence to yield a conviction, but the defendant does not admit guilt.

Except to succinctly answer questions asked of her directly by Judge Mark Chandlee, Bowen did not speak during the hearing.

Following more than a year of police investigation, Bowen was indicted in October 2013 and originally charged with one count of second-degree murder and two counts of manslaughter.

The first newborn was killed between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2007, and the second between Oct. 24, 2011 and Jan. 31, 2012, according to the criminal indictment.

During a statement of facts presented during the hearing, prosecutor and Assistant State’s Attorney Kathryn Marsh said one of the babies was discovered by Bowen’s mother in March 2012, and the other was found in an attic in a La Plata home.

Bowen’s mother placed a 911 call March 8, 2012, after she found a deceased baby boy, with its umbilical cord still attached, in a trash bag in the trunk of her daughter’s car, which she had been cleaning out. Although Bowen — who had hidden both her pregnancies — originally stated that she had miscarried in Oct. 2011 at five months and had not previously known she was pregnant, an autopsy revealed that the baby weighed 6 pounds and that her story could not be true.

There were no medical or scientific reasons why both babies should not have been born alive, Marsh said, and neither tested positive for illicit substances.

On Nov. 16, 2012, Calvert County authorities were alerted that a dead newborn had been found in a suitcase in the attic of a La Plata home, and it was determined that the infant had died in Huntingtown before Bowen brought his body to the home.

During the hearing, Marsh said both infants had been born, alive, into toilets, where their mother, who has a history of substance abuse, made no immediate move to touch them or to clear their airways. In the case of “Baby Boy A,” she eventually submerged him in a bathtub filled with water.

Subsequent conversations with investigators revealed that Bowen did not know who the father of “Baby Boy B” was, that she has continued to drink alcohol and snort cocaine and Percocet for the duration of that pregnancy and that she had known she was pregnant for months prior to delivery but had been unable to afford an abortion.

Bowen also indicated that she knew in her heart that both babies had been born alive, that she was depressed and overwhelmed by the three children she already had and that each baby had lain on his side in the toilet with his nose and mouth submerged before being removed.

Despite this narration, Bowen’s attorney, Louis Martucci, pointed out that, because of the state of decomposition of the bodies, autopsies could not conclusively determine the manner of the babies’ deaths.

After the plea, Judge Chandlee revoked Bowen’s bond and ordered that she undergo a full pre-sentencing investigation before her Nov. 3 sentencing date.

Each of the two charges against Bowen carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and a $500 fine.

Assuming that no additional information like the advent of a prior criminal record or more dead children, the court will give a sentence of no more than 10 years, allowing Bowen to serve her two sentences at the same time, according to court documents.

afrazier@somdnews.com