Ashley Ard became known as ‘the most hated woman in Alaska’ after leaving her newborn baby girl for dead in a local park, within hours of giving birth to her in the bath at home.
The 24-year-old, originally from Virginia, was charged with second-degree murder and faced up to 99 years in jail, with members of the Eagle River community calling for her to face the death penalty.
Her husband Kennard, with whom she already shared a daughter, denied all knowledge of her pregnancy, claiming he had no idea she was expecting despite having sex with her the week before she gave birth.
Throughout the complex legal case that ensued, which spanned five years and saw Ashley separate from Kennard and remarry before becoming a mother again while awaiting trial, her defense team insisted she was innocent.
Now a new four-part BBC Three documentary series, Accused: A Mother on Trial, explores what really happened on that fateful night on October 15, 2013 – and what may have caused Ashley to abandon her baby.
Ashley Ard (pictured) became known as ‘the most hated woman in Alaska’ after leaving her newborn baby girl for dead in a local park, within hours of giving birth to her in the bath at home
One expert claims it was a case of ‘pregnancy concealment’ and suggests Ashley was likely suffering from postpartum psychosis – both triggered by her allegedly abusive relationship with Kennard and her traumatic upbringing.
When Ashley, a chaplain’s assistant in the US military, fell pregnant with her second child, she and Kennard, a soldier, weren’t in a good place, according to her friends.
Dee Anne, her colleague and closest friend, told how she had reservations about their relationship from the start, after Kennard allegedly cheated on Ashley multiple times.
‘She would call me in tears because she found clear proof that he was cheating, and she’d be like, “I’m done”, then she wouldn’t be done and they’d be back together… then he’d cheat again,’ she said.
‘It was like, no one cheats this much… he didn’t even care enough to hide it. After she got pregnant, he was just so mean.
When Ashley, a chaplain’s assistant in the US military, fell pregnant with her second child, she and Kennard, a soldier, weren’t in a good place, according to her friends. Pictured together with their daughter
‘I would be on the phone with her, and I would hear him in the background yelling, “You’re fat, just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you have to eat everything in the house”.’
Ashley’s cousin Deshayla added: ‘I think she thought he was going to change but he got worse.’
Reflecting on their relationship, Ashley said she felt obliged to stay with Kennard because she wanted to keep her family together
Kennard was away on tour when Ashley gave birth to their daughter in 2012, a year after they got married, meaning she spent the first five months of motherhood alone. She moved back home to Virginia to be closer to her family.
Reflecting on their relationship, Ashley said she felt obliged to stay with Kennard because she wanted to keep her family together. ‘I never had my mom and dad,’ she said. ‘I want her to have both parents.’
Ashley’s mother Barbara told how her daughter’s father wasn’t there for her as a child. A number of her subsequent relationships were violent, with mental abuse and drugs involved.
‘I often wonder did that make her accept some things in her relationship because she saw what was going on, did she see me accepting and then she accepts things?’ she mused.
Ashley claimed Kennard would call her names, adding: ‘The verbal abuse, it got more intense every day. My friends told me to leave him, they always said I’d find someone else who would treat me better… but I felt so low, that I couldn’t.’
When she fell pregnant for a second time, Kennard was serving in Afghanistan; the baby wasn’t his. Ashley confessed to Dee Anne that she’d met up with male friend from her past, and now needed to get an abortion.
Believing she’d gone through with the termination, Dee Anne was stunned when she heard what had happened – but struggled to believe her friend was capable of murder.
A few months after he returned from Afghanistan, Kennard was posted to a military base in Alaska. Despite being pregnant by another man and the alleged abuse, Ashley chose to go with him.
When she fell pregnant for a second time, Kennard was serving in Afghanistan; the baby wasn’t his. Ashley confessed to Dee Anne (pictured) that she’d met up with male friend from her past, and now needed to get an abortion
Ashley claimed Kennard had changed ‘a lot’ when he returned from Afghanistan and she suspected he was battling PTSD.
‘He was angry, short-tempered, things would drop and make loud noises, he would jump,’ she said. ‘He would get upset because he couldn’t remember where things were in the house, light flashing triggered him. Just he wasn’t the same person.’
Admitting she was frightened of him, she went on: ‘He slept with a gun on the bed. I remember laying in bed one day and he’d came in, I was watching TV, and he had made this comment and said, “If you ever get pregnant by somebody else, I’ll kill you”.’
Kennard’s aunt Kim described his and Ashley’s relationship as a ‘perfect storm of dysfunctional behaviour’ that had been going on since he was in Afghanistan.
Kennard admitted to slapping Ashley once, but insisted she was violent towards him.
‘She used to grab on me, punch on me, I wouldn’t hit her back because that’s not me, a man striking a woman, until one night, I was minding my own business, having a drink, she comes outside, got in argument about something and she slapped me,’ he said. ‘It was a reflex, I slapped her back. We both agreed, stop with the foolishness, we’ve got to move on.’
Kennard (pictured) admitted to slapping Ashley once, but insisted she was violent towards him
Kennard told police and documentary makers he had no idea his wife was pregnant, claiming she ‘hid it very well’. He even told police he had sex with his wife every week during her pregnancy, and when he questioned her weight gain she told him it was due to fibroids.
Ashley gave birth at home late at night, while Kennard was picking up his aunt and uncle from Anchorage airport. Images of the apartment were reminiscent of a horror film, with pools of blood on the bed, bathroom floor and smeared across the wall.
The normal amount of blood loss during childbirth is one pint. According to medical experts, Ashley lost five times that – over half the blood in her body. She was treated in hospital, where she was interviewed for two hours by police officers after a member of the public found her baby in the park.
In extracts from the interview aired during the documentary, she denies giving birth and abandoning the child, while hospital staff expressed concern for her welfare.
Barbara Norton, an expert on childbirth and pregnancy at the Geneva Woods birth centre, suggested women who give birth rapidly, as Ashley appears to have done, were at risk of all kinds of complications, with excessive bleeding very common.
Ashley gave birth at home late at night, while Kennard was picking up his aunt and uncle from Anchorage airport. Images of the apartment were reminiscent of a horror film (pictured), with pools of blood on the bed, bathroom floor and smeared across the wall
The normal amount of blood loss during childbirth is one pint. According to medical experts, Ashley (pictured recently) lost five times that – over half the blood in her body
‘Anyone who loses twice the normal blood, that’s a haemorrhage,’ she explained.
‘Generally people are dizzy, they can’t sit up in bed without their ears ringing, they start sweating, they get winded on the way to the bathroom, they’re very symptomatic.’
Asked if the person would not be in a good state of mind, she replied: ‘Yes, absolutely.’
What is pregnancy concealment?
NHS guidelines define pregnancy concealment as when a woman knows she is pregnant but does not tell anyone, or when a woman appears genuinely unaware she is pregnant.
Concealment may be an active act or a form of denial.
Reasons for pregnancy concealment can include fear of disapproval, mental illness and domestic abuse in a relationship.
Various studies suggest it might occur in approximately one in 2,500 cases, or 0.04 per cent.
Dr Diana Lynn Barnes, an expert in pregnancy denial cases who has conducted decades of research into infant homicide, argued Ashley’s case is ‘clearly’ one of pregnancy concealment ‘triggered’ by Kennard’s alleged comment he would kill her if she got pregnant by somebody else.
‘One thing we know in concealment and denial is women usually have a background of trauma,’ she explained, citing Barbara’s violent relationships during her upbringing.
‘One of the things [Barbara] told me was when Ashley was witness to the fighting, there were times when Ashley wanted to jump off the balcony of the apartment.
‘Clearly it was very stressful and distressing for Ashley.’
She added: ‘When a pregnancy disappears from conscious awareness, the things that we are looking at is, what is happening in her immediate circle that would make her frightened of talking about her pregnancy, that would signal to the mind that I can’t think about this or it needs to go away.
‘Most of the time what we see is threats of abandonment or harm… that is the trigger that sends that pregnancy out of conscious awareness.
‘If she was experiencing a pregnancy denial, we’re talking about a woman who is in the midst of extreme terror.’
Dr Barnes noted the way Ashley gave birth was distinctive of someone suffering from pregnancy concealment, and concludes, in her opinion, she shouldn’t be punished for ‘being sick’.
‘They give birth in the bathroom, in the shower, in the toilet, they misconstrue their labour pains as an intestinal disturbance,’ she explained.
Dr Diana Lynn Barnes, pictured, noted the way Ashley gave birth was distinctive of someone suffering from pregnancy concealment
‘They give birth in what we call a dissociative state. In very many cases, vision becomes blurry, hearing becomes altered, some women talk about feeling as if they’re in a tunnel where they can’t hear.
‘Some women talk about the sense of time being very distorted and watching themselves, watching the action and not being able to intervene.’
Dr Barnes added that, given Ashley’s history of violence, she may have been at higher risk of suffering postpartum psychosis – highlighting that the condition can result in a woman taking the life of her child because, in her delusional psychotic mind, she actually believes that is in their best interest.
‘Looking at her risk factors, trauma, detachment and disassociation it is absolutely possible it’s the case in Ashley’s situation,’ she deduced.
Ashley’s attorney Rex Lamont-Butler is convinced she is not guilty of murder, and brands it ‘crazy’ that Kennard was having regular sex with her and didn’t know she was pregnant.
Ashley’s attorney Rex Lamont-Butler is convinced she is not guilty of murder, and brands it ‘crazy’ that Kennard was having regular sex with her and didn’t know she was pregnant
He also called it ‘odd’ that Ashley’s car, which she allegedly used to drive the baby to the park after giving birth, didn’t contain a single speck of blood on the driver’s seat.
‘People say hang the b****, we wish the death penalty was at our disposal,’ he said. ‘They don’t know Ashley, they have no idea who Ashley Ard is.’
While awaiting trial and on bail, Ashley meets Byron, from Ohio, and within five months the couple are married with a baby on the way – though Ashley only told him about her past after their wedding.
While awaiting trial and on bail, Ashley meets Byron, from Ohio, and within five months the couple are married with a baby on the way – though Ashley only told him about her past after their wedding
Ashley’s trial was delayed until after she gave birth to a baby girl. In the meantime the prosecution argued Ashley’s testimony was unreliable and sought further psychological reports, which disputed Dr Barnes’ theory.
With the odds stacked against her, and the State offered to reduce her crime to aggravated manslaughter if she pleaded guilty – which would mean an instant return to prison and a maximum sentence of 20 years.
With a newborn baby and a marriage still very much in its honeymoon period, Ashley is faced with an impossible decision.
Accused: A Mother On Trial is available to watch now on the BBC iPlayer.