FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) – The case of “Baby Michael,” a case with the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office that has remained unsolved since 1999, is now closed.
On March 3, 1999, the body of a baby less than a day old was found in a plastic bag along a Cumberland County Road. His umbilical cord was still attached when he was found.
No arrest had been made in the baby’s death until now.
On Friday, members of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office discussed what led to the arrest of 54-year-old Deborah Riddle O’Conner.
“Throughout the years, many hours, long days, long nights were put in this investigation,” Sheriff Ennis Wright said.
DNA evidence recently allowed detectives to identify Deborah O’Conner as a suspect.
She was interviewed in Burke County by detectives where she admitted to being Baby Michael’s mother, Wright said.
Deborah O’Conner has been charged with first-degree murder. She faces life in prison or the death penalty, the district attorney said.
“At this sheriff’s office – we never give up,” Wright said.
The sheriff said the case of Baby Michael was personal to the sheriff’s office.
“It really bothers me. I take it personal when there are so many avenues we have out there that this young lady could have used at that time,” Wright said.
An investigator said Deborah O’Conner knew this day was coming.
When asked if there was a motive behind the child’s death, Wright said, “I’m not going to get into that.”
Deborah O’Conner has children who were born before Baby Michael, the sheriff confirmed.
Charles O’Conner, Deborah’s husband, spoke with CBS 17 following his wife’s arrest.
He said they’ve been married for 10 years and believes she is innocent.
“I know my wife and I know she wouldn’t do it,” Charles O’Conner told CBS 17. “I love her and I’m going to stand by her all the way through this.”
While Charles O’Conner said the DNA evidence can’t be argued, he also said, “There had to be extenuating circumstances.”
Charles O’Conner said his wife has “serious mental problems” but is not a murderer.
“I don’t believe she did it. Debbie doesn’t have it in her,” he said.
In 1999, a soldier driving along Canady Pond Road spotted the bag and thought a doll was inside.
Baby Michael still had his umbilical cord attached when his body was found.
Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office detectives determined the child died of blunt force trauma.
When no one came forward as the boy’s parents, dubbed him “Baby Michael,” after the Patron Saint of Law Enforcement Officers.
A funeral service was held March 30, 1999, at Hair’s Chapel Free Will Holiness Church on Duck Pond Road.
Baby Michael was buried in the church cemetery.
“Long days, long nights were put into this investigation,” Wright said. “At some point we didn’t think we were going to solve it, but in this sheriff’s office we never give up, we continue to investigate cases and that’s what happened here.”
Bode Technology used the boy’s DNA to give detectives a family line – which led them to O’Conner.
We spoke with the suspect’s husband, Charles O’Conner.
He says he’s been married to Deborah for 10 years and that he believes she’s innocent.
“I know my wife and I know she wouldn’t do it,” Charles said. “I love her and I’m going to stand by her all the way through this.”
He admits the DNA evidence can’t be argued with, but says “I’m sure there’s a good explanation.”
He says his wife has some “serious mental problems” but that she is not a “cold-blooded murderer.”
“I don’t believe she did it,” Charles said. “Debbie doesn’t have it in her.”
Deborah O’Conner is being held without bond and is scheduled to appear in court Friday afternoon.
More headlines from CBS17.com:
- North Carolina receives ‘D’ in social distancing
- Triangle high school golfers reflect on season that could have been
- Woman with Raleigh ties suspected of abducting 9-year-old apprehended in Virginia
- State now tracking COVID-19 outbreaks at longterm care facilities
- Inmate dies after being stabbed by another offender at NC prison