Archives 1987: Tinning Sentence Is 20 Years to Life For Killing Baby

How the Gazette reported Tinning's October 1987 sentencing
The Schenectady Gazette from Oct. 2, 1987
The Schenectady Gazette from Oct. 2, 1987

Editor’s note: Marybeth Tinning was released to parole Tuesday after serving more than 30 years in state prison. She was originally sentenced to 20 years to life in prison at her second-degree murder sentencing Oct. 1, 1987. This is the Gazette story on her sentencing as it appeared in the Gazette the next day.

Oct. 2, 1987 – Marybeth Tinning will have to spend at least the next 20 years of her life in state prison for smothering her 4-month-old daughter, Tami Lynne, to death with a pillow five days before Christmas in 1985.

Mrs. Tinning, who read a statement denying she caused Tami Lynne’s death, was sentenced by County Judge Clifford T. Harrigan yesterday to 20 years to life for her July conviction after trial of second-degree murder.

The 20-year minimum falls midway between the 15- and 25-year minimums provided for in the state Penal Law.

However, it means that Mrs. Tinning, whose 45th birthday occurred three weeks ago today, will not be eligible to apply for parole until the year 2007, when she will be 65 years old.

In addition, it means she will not be eligible to apply for any type of prison work release program until after she has served 17 years, or until the year 2004, when she will be 62.

Harrigan said Mrs. Tinning is to serve her sentence in the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, Westchester County.

Also see: Convicted child killer Marybeth Tinning released, Aug. 21, 2018

Mrs. Tinning appeared pale and haggard as she sat in Schenectady County Court before sentence was imposed.

Her eyes implied that she had been crying even before she was escorted to the courtroom from the next-door county jail, where she has been held since her $100,000 bail was revoked July 17, the day a County Court jury convicted her of murder.

She smiled briefly in pre-sentencing conversations with her husband, Joseph, who sat next to her, and her defense lawyer, Paul M. Callahan. She also took deep breaths on several occasions as if to keep herself from crying.

However, her voice was clear as she read a seven-sentence statement in which she said she “played no part” in Tami Lynne’s death and will “never stop fighting to prove my innocence.”

After she heard the sentence, she placed her head in her hands. Her husband put his arm across her shoulders and gave her a quick hug. 

Before she was taken back to the county jail to await transfer to Bedford Hills, she sat quietly and did not turn around to watch as members of the news media and spectators left the courtroom.

Mrs. Tinning had no comment as she was escorted the short distance between the courtroom and the walkway connecting the Judicial Building and the jail by Sheriff Bernard T. Waldron and two corrections officers.

During a pre-sentence statement, District Attorney John B. Poersch, who successfully prosecuted Mrs. Tinning at her trial, called her a “wicked woman” who “probably is sick” and said she killed Tami Lynne and perhaps two other babies “without remorse.”

Poersch asked Harrigan to impose a 25-year minimum, saying Mrs. Tinning was “aware of the consequences of her acts” but “found them to be of no interest to her at all. They were done for her own personal reasons.”

Callahan objected to Poersch’s characterization of Mrs. Tinning as “wicked,” noting that such a description was not substantiated by anything in the pre-sentence report prepared by the county Probation Department.

Also see: Convicted child killer Marybeth Tinning released, Aug. 21, 2018

He said he was “upset that, in this 200th year of our Constitution,” Poersch would ask for a sentence which the Legislature intended be imposed on someone with a previous criminal background.

Callahan quoted from the pre-sentence report that “except for the current circumstances,” Mrs. Tinning would “not be a likely candidate for state prison,” and he added that “as the facts stand before the court” in this case, Marybeth Tinning is entitled to the 15-year minimum.

Had Harrigan imposed a 15-year minimum, Mrs. Tinning would have been eligible to apply for parole in the year 2002 and would have been eligible to apply for the work-release program in 1999.

Callahan said Mrs. Tinning has no previous criminal record, that she was on bail for more than a year before her trial and “had no trouble with the law or anyone else” and that while she has been in the county jail pending sentencing, “she has been a good prisoner and has helped other prisoners.”

He also said Mrs. Tinning “has many good points for an appeal” from her conviction and he later filed a notice of intent to appeal to the state Supreme Court Appellate Division, Albany.

Callahan will not represent her during the appeal.

Instead, Mrs. Tinning can ask the Appellate Division to assign her an appeal lawyer with the possibility that the assignment will be given to the county public defender’s office.

In a prepared statement, Mrs. Tinning said, “I want you (Harrigan) and the people in this courtroom to know that I am very sorry Tami Lynne is dead. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her. I miss her so very much.

“I just want all of you to know that I played no part in the death of my daughter Tami Lynne.

“I will try to hold my head high and accept the punishment that society and the law requires for the crime I was convicted of. I did not commit this crime but will serve the time in prison to the best of my ability, however, I will never stop fighting to prove my innocence.

“The Lord above and I know that I am innocent, but one day the whole world will know that I am innocent and maybe then I can have my life back once again, or whatever is left of it.”

Harrigan imposed the sentence without comment.

However, Callahan asked him to include in the sentencing record a statement of reason for imposing more than the least possible minimum term of 15 years.

Noting his review of the pre-sentence report and his “close contact” with the case during trial and during a hearing last year as to the voluntariness of the confession from Mrs. Tinning, Harrigan said that the severity of the incident required such a sentence.”

In the confession, Mrs. Tinning admitted she smothered Tami Lynne to death with a pillow in her then-Michigan Avenue home to stop her from crying. She admitted killing Tami Lynne and her sons Timothy and Nathan “because I’m not a good mother.”

Mrs. Tinning originally had been considered a suspect in the deaths of eight of her nine children, including an adopted son, between January 1972 and December 1985.

A county grand jury soon may be asked to investigate Mrs. Tinning’s possible criminal involvement in the deaths of some or all of the other seven children, but Poersch said it “will take a little time” to decide “how and when.”

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Categories: News, Schenectady County


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