GOLDEN, Colo. — Mindy Sigg sat sobbing, listening to prosecutors tell a court that her 17-year-old son had confessed to the abduction and killing of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway.
While any mother would be devastated, there was an even more heartbreaking wrinkle for Sigg: She was the one who called police.
It was not the only high-profile case this week in which a mother made that painful choice. In New Jersey, Anita Saunders saw something on a Facebook page that led her to call police.
Her two sons, ages 15 and 17, are now charged with murdering 12-year-old Autumn Pasquale, a bike-lover who authorities said was lured to their home with the promise of new parts.
What does it feel like to turn in your child, knowing they could be sentenced to many years in prison? Surely, no one knows but those who’ve done it.
But a main motivation, according to one criminologist, is simply a desire to do the right thing.
“These are law-abiding people, pro-social people,” said Kathleen Heide, professor of criminology at the University of South Florida. “And besides doing the right thing, the parents often want to get their children help.”
What they often aren’t aware of, though, are the full ramifications in terms of likely punishment.
“If these are cases of first- or second-degree murder, in most cases the kids will be charged as adults,” Heide said. “This means they can be sentenced to life in prison.”
In both cases, authorities are deciding whether to prosecute the suspects as adults.
Certainly not all parents are ready to turn in their kids. One high-profile case from the 1990s, in fact, resulted in strains between the United States and Israel, when a father helped his teenage son escape this country after a particularly brutal murder in Maryland. The son, Samuel Sheinbein, confessed and is now serving a 24-year sentence in Israel — a lighter term than he likely would have gotten in the United States.
Mindy Sigg made a different decision. Reached by phone on Wednesday, she told The Associated Press: “I made the phone call, and he turned himself in. That’s all I have to say.” Then she broke down in tears.
Her son Austin Reed Sigg made his first court appearance Thursday in the death of Jessica and in a separate attack on a 22-year-old runner, who managed to break free, in May.
Prosecutors say he has confessed in both cases, and investigators have overwhelming DNA evidence against him. He was ordered held without bail; prosecutors are expected to formally charge him next week.
Sigg’s father, Rob Sigg, issued a written statement Thursday commending his ex-wife’s decision and asking for prayers and support for the Ridgeway family.
“This horrible event is a tragedy for both the families, as well as the community. I ask also for your prayers and support for Austin’s mother, whose courageous act — unimaginably painful for any parent — has put this tragedy on the path to resolution,” he said. “I am hopeful that as the legal process unfolds, the Ridgeway family may come to know peace.”
Peg Claspell, who lives near the Siggs, said she was grateful to the mother for her decision and called it the “most loving, difficult thing.”
“I can’t imagine the pain for her, and she’s in my prayers,” Claspell said. “She has a long and difficult time ahead of her.”
Claspell’s husband, Tom, struggled when asked if he would turn in a child. “I can say yes, but I don’t know if I would. It would be a very hard thing to do,” he said, explaining it would depend on the severity of the crime.
In a case like this, “I probably would,” he said.
In the New Jersey case, Justin Robinson, 15, and Dante Robinson, 17, have been charged with murder and other counts in the death of 12-year-old Autumn, whose body was found Monday stuffed in a recycling bin only blocks from her home in Clayton.
An autopsy found the seventh-grader suffered blunt force trauma consistent with strangulation.
The boys are due in court Friday for a hearing to determine if they will remain in custody.
What’s rare about both cases, said Heide, the criminologist, is that boys of this age rarely kill girls, especially girls so young. “Usually boys this age kill other males, and in their own age cohort,” she said.
Jessica disappeared three weeks ago after leaving her home in the Denver suburb of Westminster to walk to school. She never arrived. Her remains were found on Oct. 10. Sigg was taken into custody late Tuesday after police received the mother’s phone call. He lived about a mile from Jessica.
Sigg wore a blue-green jail uniform and had a light goatee when he appeared in a heavily guarded courtroom in Golden.
Four of his family members were seated in the court, and they sobbed at times during the hearing.
When District Judge Ann Gail Meinster asked Sigg if a parent was present, he said “Yes” and looked toward his relatives. He then mostly sat with his head bowed.
Seven of Jessica’s family members sat in the courtroom with their arms around each other. Sigg glanced in their direction just once.
Public defender Ryan Loewer had argued for setting bail for Sigg, saying he has no prior criminal history. Prosecutor Hal Sargent said Sigg had confessed and investigators had a strong case.
“There’s DNA evidence, and the evidence is overwhelming,” he said.
After the hearing, Jefferson County District Attorney Scott Storey said prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty for Sigg because he is a minor.
Storey said the law is unclear on whether Sigg could be sentenced to life in prison.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the death penalty was unconstitutional for minors. Colorado law allows for life sentences for juveniles convicted of serious crimes, but it would be up to a judge to determine whether that’s appropriate, Storey said.
Storey declined to discuss the possibility that Sigg might enter an insanity plea.
Former high school classmates painted a picture of Sigg as an intelligent teen who often wore black and complained about school but who would stay late sometimes to work on computers. Sigg was interested in mortuary science and was taking forensics classes, said Rachel Bradley, 17, who attended Standley Lake High School with him.
Sigg enrolled in August at Arapahoe Community College, which offers the state’s only accredited mortuary science program. He didn’t have enough credits yet to apply to that program.
Sigg had left Standley Lake High in July after finishing the 11th grade and later earned a GED. School officials don’t know why he left.
Former schoolmate Sarah Morevec said Sigg had been bullied for having a high voice.