ROCHESTER - A Red Wing woman accused of killing two of her own infants more than two decades ago pleaded guilty Wednesday in the murder case of one of the babies, who was found on the banks of the Mississippi River in 2003.
Jennifer Lynn Matter, 50, entered a guilty plea in Goodhue County District Court for second-degree intentional murder as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors that could result in a prison sentence of up to 27 years. Another second-degree murder charge in the case has been dropped.
District Judge Douglas Bayley will announce the sentence at a hearing on April 28.
Goodhue County investigators announced last May they had arrested Matter at her home outside Red Wing as part of a cold case investigation into the deaths of two infants found in or near the Mississippi River in 1999 and 2003. The cases helped inspire Minnesota's "safe haven" law granting immunity to mothers who safely give up their newborns up to 7 days old.
According to court records, DNA testing determined Matter was the mother of both infants, though she was only charged in the December 2003 death. Four teenage girls stumbled across the unclothed infant's body lying on Methodist Beach in Florence Township, his umbilical cord still attached and wrapped around the middle of his body.
The Minnesota Regional Coroner's Office conducted an autopsy of the infant and determined the boy was likely born alive. Coroners found the infant died as a result of homicide, but the specific cause of death is unknown. The baby had blunt force head injuries, possibly from the birth process.
DNA tests done in 2004 and 2007 concluded the two infants were related. Investigators in 2021 used genetic testing to identify the biological father of the infant, which led police to consider Matter a person of interest.
Court records show Matter at first denied being the mother of either infant and refused to submit a DNA sample. But investigators obtained a search warrant and got Matter's DNA, which showed she was likely the mother of both.
Matter told police she was in a bad mental state when she gave birth in 1999, according to a court complaint. The infant girl's body was found wrapped in a towel in the Mississippi River near Red Wing in November 1999.
"She stated that she was in and out of jail, drinking too much, doing a lot of stupid things, and had experienced chaotic life circumstances for a long time," according to the complaint. "She stated that she was not aware that she was pregnant and that when she was on her way to drop off her kids (age 2 and 5) at school and day care, that she started bleeding. Matter stated that after dropping off the kids that she returned to her home in Red Wing ... and gave birth in the bathroom.
"Matter stated that the baby was born blue, was not breathing and was not crying, so she freaked out. Matter stated that she knows that she should have gotten help but that her mind was not there."
Matter told investigators that she drove the baby to Bay Point Park in the middle of the night, put her in the water near some boathouses and walked away.
She told investigators that when she went into labor in 2003, she was alone at a public beach. "Matter stated that it was dark outside, it was cold, that she did not look to see the gender of the child, and that she remembered leaving the baby on the beach before driving away," according to the complaint.
Matter later told investigators that the baby "was breathing fine and it may have been crying but she didn't remember it."