An Athens woman was sentenced Monday to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after pleading guilty in the 2016 murder of her 4-year-old daughter.
Stephanie Diane Smith originally faced a capital murder charge after confessing to Athens Police that she had suffocated Zadie Wren Cooper with a pillow. Alabama law requires the charge in the wrongful death of a child under age 14.
Records show, however, that Smith agreed to plead guilty to felony murder and serve a life sentence with the possibility of parole instead of waiting for a jury trial. Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones had included Cooper's murder to be among the cases he tried in 2020.
Unfortunately, it was only a couple months into the year before the coronavirus pandemic struck and the state Supreme Court put a temporary stop to all jury trials.
Smith has remained in the Limestone County since her arrest in April 2017, when she confessed to the murder.
On July 4, 2016, Athens police received a 911 call from Smith, reporting her daughter was not breathing. Athens police, firefighters and ambulance personnel found Smith performing CPR on Cooper, who was lying on her back on her bed.
Cooper was taken to Athens-Limestone Hospital, then Huntsville Hospital, where it was determined Cooper had no brain activity. Three days later, she was removed from life support and died.
Smith told investigators at the time that she had heard something on the baby monitor and found Cooper between the bed and wall, not breathing. Months later, in October 2016, she repeated the same sequence of events to investigators and the Department of Human Resources.
On April 13, 2017, Smith entered the Athens Police Department and confessed to smothering her daughter nine months earlier. She said she had a mental condition and had been off her medication in the days leading up to the child's murder. She claimed she blacked out, and when she removed the pillow from Cooper's face, the girl was not breathing.
A private autopsy did not determine a cause of death.