A Burlington County woman who set her newborn daughter on fire hours after giving birth was sentenced Friday to 30 years in prison for aggravated manslaughter.
Under the sentence imposed by Superior Court Judge Terrence Cook, Hyphernkemberly Dorvilier, 23, of Pemberton Township, must serve 85 percent of the term before she is eligible for parole.
Family members packed the courtroom as Dorvilier's defense lawyer pleaded for leniency, arguing that she has a history of mental illness and disclosing publicly for the first time that her pregnancy resulted from a sexual assault.
Before the sentence was handed down, Dorvilier - handcuffed, shackled, and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and sneakers - made a tearful apology.
"I was on a downward spiral. I believe I hit my rock bottom," she said, occasionally wiping tears with tissues handed to her by a sheriff's officer. "This tragedy goes against all my morals and values."
Cook ruled that the term imposed was the "sentence that justice requires." The baby died from smoke inhalation and third-degree burns over 60 percent of her body, he said.
"The court finds that the crime was committed in the most vicious, heinous, and depraved manner possible," he said. Dorvilier had been charged with murder in the Jan. 16, 2015, death of her baby, and could have faced life in prison if convicted.
"The crime in this case was committed against the weakest of the weak: a helpless newborn. All she knew was the extreme excruciating pain of being set on fire by her mother, the person who was supposed to love and protect her," the judge said.
Dorvilier pleaded guilty last month to dousing her baby with WD-40 lubricating spray and using a lighter to set the girl ablaze on Simontown Road in Pemberton Township.
Authorities said Dorvilier drove to that location several hours after giving birth alone in the bathroom of her home, a mile and a half away.
The baby, whom family members later named Angelica, still had her umbilical cord attached at the time of the fire, prosecutors said. Neighbors who called 911 said they heard the infant crying, and tackled Dorvilier as she tried to run to her car.
As a man held Dorvilier down until the police arrived, she repeatedly said, "I'm sorry," according to the 911 call.
Dorvilier initially told a neighbor that she was burning dog feces, police said. When the baby was heard crying, Dorvilier said the baby was not hers.
Police found the baby wrapped in a smoldering towel and papers. She died less than two hours later at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.
"I apologize first and foremost for not giving my daughter, Angelica, the life she deserved. She deserved so much better," Dorvilier said in court Friday.
Assistant Prosecutor Robert Van Gilst said a plea agreement had been reached because Dorvilier suffered from mental illness and was sexually abused as a child. But he said the sentence was warranted. "This was a helpless child," he said.
Defense attorney Karen Thek urged Cook to impose a lesser sentence, arguing that Dorvilier's behavior was "a complete and utter aberration."
"She was not in her right mind," Thek said, acknowledging that "no human being deserved what happened."
Cook said he wanted to deter others and cited New Jersey's safe-haven law, which allows a parent to legally and anonymously give up an unwanted baby who is up to 30 days old. A baby can be left at a hospital or police station.
"If the defendant did not want to be a mother to baby Angelica, she had other options," the judge said.
Dorvilier, 22 at the time, hid her pregnancy from her mother and younger sister, with whom she lived, authorities said.
Her parents and about two dozen family members and friends wept throughout Friday's court proceedings. Dorvilier gave them a tearful wave and blew kisses as she was led away.
Dorvilier's older sister, Dejennie, who drove from Montreal to attend the sentencing, told the judge that the family supported Dorvilier and loves "her with all of our hearts."
"She's a good person. She needs help. She's going to think about it every day of her life," her sister said.
Dorvilier had been held in the county jail since her arrest on $500,000 bail, which was revoked Friday.