UPDATE: Mo. woman pleads guilty in plot to swipe newborn

Friday, July 18, 2008 | 2:36 p.m. CDT; updated 12:10 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

INDEPENDENCE — A 20-year-old Kansas City-area woman pleaded guilty Friday to snatching a pregnant teenager she met online in a foiled plot to steal her unborn child.

Lauren Gash, of Odessa, pleaded guilty to kidnapping, assaulting and restraining 18-year-old Amanda Howard, of Clinton, inside a Blue Springs motel room a year ago. Gash and her lawyer said in court that she planned to raise the baby as her own.

Co-defendant Alisa Betts of Atchison, Kan., remains charged with kidnapping, assault and felonious restraint.

Police initially linked Gash to a plan to abduct Howard and cut the baby from her womb. But The Kansas City Star reported on its Web site Friday that Gash and her lawyer said in court that the plan was to steal the baby after Howard gave birth. They said Gash planned to raise the baby as her own.

However, evidence that Assistant Prosecutor Traci Stansell outlined against Gash contradicted that account. That evidence included items police found in the motel room, including scissors, a drop cloth draped over a bed, and a multipurpose fishing tool. Stansell said the plan clearly was to cut the child from the womb.

“Basically, it’s a fish-gutting kit,” Stansell told Jackson County Circuit Court Judge W. Stephen Nixon.

Police also found items to care for an infant, such as diapers, a blanket and a car seat. After Friday’s hearing, Stansell said she didn’t know if Gash had tried to get pregnant herself.

“All I know is that she told people that she was pregnant,” Stansell told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Stansell said Gash registered at Babies “R” Us, held a baby shower and even wore maternity clothes. Just before the incident, she told relatives that she had given birth to a boy.

In court, Gash admitted that she met Howard on MySpace, a social-networking Internet site. Stansell said she didn’t know if Gash had been trolling the site for potential victims.

According to police, Gash and Betts lured the unemployed and single Howard from her home by telling her they would drive her to get clothes for her baby. Along the way, Howard realized something was wrong and tried to use her cell phone but was assaulted with a type of pepper spray, police said.

According to police, Gash bound and gagged Howard after they arrived at the Interstate Inn in Blue Springs. Howard later told police she thought Gash was trying to kill her.

Stansell said a scared Betts left the motel room and called police. Officers arrived at the motel, thinking that they were checking on a distressed pregnant woman. They became suspicious when they saw the duct tape around Howard’s neck and in her hair.

Howard, who didn’t attend Friday’s hearing, told the officers she had been held against her will.

Two days after the attack, Howard gave birth to a healthy son.

Gash faces 15 years in prison for each kidnapping and assault charge. She faces seven years in prison for the count of felonious restraint. Sentencing was scheduled for Aug. 26.

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