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'I need forgiveness': Mother charged in Red Wing baby murder says in first court hearing

A Goodhue County judge set bail at $750,000 with conditions for Jennifer Matter, the DNA-proven mother of babies found dead in 1999 and 2003.

RED WING, Minn. — Bail was set at $750,000 with conditions Tuesday for the woman accused of leaving her infant to die on the banks of the Mississippi River back in 2003. 

Jennifer Matter appeared in Goodhue County Court via Zoom on two counts of second-degree murder, consistently sobbing during the brief proceeding. Authorities say DNA evidence proves that along with the death of the newborn boy she is charged with, Matter is responsible for the death of an infant girl also left in the river back in 1999.

Judge Douglas Bayley opened by telling Matter he had denied her application for a public defender due to a lack of information she provided. The defendant indicated she and her family will be hiring a private attorney in the coming days. 

Prosecutor Erin Kuester requested $2 million bail or bond, citing concern over Matter's character and mental condition reflected in the secrets she held over two decades' time. 

"The state has real and significant concerns over both in this case," Kuester emphasized. 

Judge Bayley then addressed Matter directly telling her that he "understood the emotional aspect of this" and asking if she had anything to say before his bail decision. 

"I'm not the person I once was... and I need my family for support," she wept. 

Matter insisted she is not on probation, is doing well with the drug and alcohol problems that have dogged her in the past, has a safe place to live and has work painting for her fiancee's construction company. 

“I need forgiveness for something I did in the past,” she told the judge. 

“I appreciate what you’re going through, and the emotion behind it,” Judge Bayley replied. 

After an extended moment of thinking, the judge set bail and/or bond at $1.5 million with no conditions, $750,000 with conditions that include no alcohol or drugs, random chemical testing, no possession of firearms or ammunition, no leaving the state and complying with ongoing mental health programming, among others.

“In a situation like this, with a person standing in Ms. Jennifer Matter’s shoes, that there is a risk of wanting to take off, that there is a risk of attempting self harm," Judge Bayley told the court. "And there is a risk of abusing drugs and alcohol that would endanger the public and herself.“

The judge promised Matter that bail could be addressed once she hires an attorney, then set her next appearance for May 25. 

A KARE 11 review of court records found that Matter was a recently-divorced mother of two in 1999 when she became pregnant with the baby eventually dumped in the boat harbor. Matter told investigators she didn't realize she was pregnant, had been drinking too much, and gave birth in her bathroom. She claimed the baby was stillborn and dumped the body at night.

Investigators were able to find the father of the 1999 baby with help from a genetic genealogy company. He was not her ex-husband. By all accounts in the court papers, the man never knew Matter was pregnant.

It is unclear whether authorities have been able to track down the father of the 2003 baby. It is not the same man as in 1999.

Matter worked as a cosmetologist for a number of years in Red Wing during that time frame. In 2008, Matter gave birth again, so she has three living children.

Investigators arrested Matter early Monday at her home in Belvidere Township outside Red Wing. They told reporters during a press conference that DNA samples from both infants - one discovered in the river in 1999, the other in 2003 - were tied to Matter by a genealogy search that led to potential relatives in Goodhue County. 

RELATED: Mother charged with murder in ‘Babies in the Water’ case

Authorities say a third baby found in the waters of the Mississippi River in 2007 is not Matter's child. Anyone with information on that case is urged to call the Goodhue County Sheriff's Office. 

RELATED: Minnesota Unsolved: The mystery of the babies in the water

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