Ann Pettway, the woman who kidnapped a baby girl from Harlem Hospital in 1987 and raised her as her own, was sentenced to 12 years in prison Monday in federal court in Manhattan after emotional pleas from the biological parents who lost their child for 23 years.
"This was not a crime of greed, not a crime of vengeance, but it was a crime of selfishness," U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel told the somber defendant, jailed since she was caught in 2011. "Ms. Pettway, you inflicted a parent's worst nightmare on a young couple."
Pettway, 50, was charged after Carlina White -- the daughter she raised as "Nejdra" after snatching her as a 3-week-old -- figured out her true identity and approached her parents. The child, now 25, did not appear in court, but her parents told Castel that they could never regain the time they lost.
"I cried every day looking at her picture, wondering if she was being fed, washed and loved," said White's mother, Joy, who told the judge that her daughter's emotions were now confused, split between loyalty to one family that wasn't really hers and another she never knew.
"It breaks my heart," she said. "My daughter is here, but she's not home yet."
"You put a scar on my heart," said father Carl Tyson, turning to address Pettway directly as he spoke. "What they should give you is 23 years, which is what you took away from me."
In a brief statement before being sentenced, Pettway, who has a teenage son of her own, stood to tell the parents she was sorry. "I would like to apologize to the family, even though the apology may not be accepted," she said. " . . . I am here to right my wrong and ask for forgiveness."
Pettway was accused of dressing up as a nurse to blend in at the hospital and then grabbing Carlina White while the newborn was hospitalized with a fever. She raised her in Connecticut. Her daughter figured out her identity with the help of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Pettway pleaded guilty in February.
Her lawyers told the judge that the crime had been a product of emotional distress, after Pettway suffered multiple miscarriages and became convinced that she wouldn't be able to have a child. Prosecutors argued that she kept the child for nearly a quarter century, long after a mental disturbance would have passed.
Castel's 12-year prison term was in the middle of a range the two sides had agreed on as part of Pettway's plea agreement. Afterward, both parents said they were disappointed that the sentence wasn't longer, but Joy White was philosophical.
"It couldn't make up for the time [Carlina] was gone," White said, "so it didn't matter how much time they gave her."