Tina Brosius, 41, is not the same frightened young girl who at age 18 gave birth in a port-a-potty and left her newborn baby to drown in the toilet.
She has served 23 years in prison for first-degree murder. On Sept. 15, the Pennsylvania Parole Board voted 5-0 to commute her sentence but she will not be free unless Governor Tom Wolf grants clemency.
Her family — parents, her two grown daughters and the congregation of Calvary United Methodist Church — have been praying, visiting and supporting Brosius since the day she entered prison in 1994.
On the day of her hearing, members of Calvary chartered two buses and rode to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court to support her once again. Half had to be turned away because they could not all fit in the hearing room.
“When Tina was baptized at Calvary at age 4, a covenant relationship was established between her parents and her church. The people of Calvary pledged to walk with her on the journey of her discipleship. And they have,” said the Rev. Ron Parks, pastor of Calvary.
Parks spoke to the parole board, he told them the congregation has watched her grow in her faith through Sunday school, children’s choir and confirmation.
“All of them grieved when they learned of the tragic events of that night so long ago,” Parks said. “And from that moment forward, all of them began to pray. They prayed that justice may be served, but that grace and mercy would not be excluded.”
Parks was appointed to Calvary in 1999 so he was not there when she was convicted in 1994. But he has met her numerous times.
“Over two decades, it is the story of someone who made a horrific mistake as a young person but as an adult now really understands the value of life, the importance of responsibility. There is a hopefulness about her that inspires people. She has been rehabilitated, she is a new creation,” he said.
Legally representing Brosius is another member of Calvary, Stephen Grose, a retired litigator. Grose was a member of Calvary when the young woman was arrested in 1994.
“I had trouble with this case. I was in church back at the time and I wasn’t in Tina’s corner then. I said I just couldn’t imagine how anyone could have a child in a port-a-potty and leave it there to drown.”
But getting to know Brosius, seeing her become a leader among the other women at Muncy State Correctional Institution, has changed his mind. While in prison, she has taken numerous classes in parenting, and has earned various vocational degrees in preparation for the day when she might be free.
“I felt she had been so wronged from a judicial (and) justice standpoint. She’s not been given equal protection under the law,” he said, in an interview with United Methodist News Service.
Taking on this case “was a calling,” he said.
Many people spoke during the parole hearing on her behalf. Among the people asking the parole board for mercy were her two daughters, Kerri, 26 and Sarah, 24, and her parents, Lorraine and Ernest Brosius.
Tina Brosius had Kerri when she was 15 and Sarah when she was 16.
In 1994, she had just graduated from high school and was living at home with her parents. Her father had said if she had another child he would put them all out on the street. So Brosicus hid her third pregnancy from everyone.
Grose described what happened on the night she went into labor with her third child.
Brosius started going into labor at the dinner table. She told her mother she had to go to the store and she just started driving.
She went to a park and she thought she could get into a building there but it was locked. As her labor progressed, she went into a port-a-potty and had the baby, Grose said.
She said she did not hear any sounds from the baby and had felt no movement during pregnancy.
She went back home. A week later, she got a call from the police. When they told her they had found the baby, she broke down and confessed.
“She was charged with first-degree murder which was very irregular. These types of incidents are usually third-degree murder,” Grose said. The death of the baby was not done with willful or malicious intent, he said.
At her trial, Brosius was represented by a court-appointed lawyer who had never tried a murder case. She didn’t call any experts, didn’t have any test or mental evaluation done for her, Grose said.
In Pennsylvania, a life sentence excludes the possibility of parole. The state has more than 5,000 lifers and the highest number of lifers who committed their crimes as juveniles.
Grose said most of the staff at Muncy “love” Brosius.
One of the counselors from the prison testified on her behalf at the hearing. Also testifying was Judge John Cherry who was the district attorney for Dauphin County when she was charged. He said the life sentence she received should have been plead down to third-degree murder.
Grose said when the board voted 5-0 in her favor, the courtroom erupted in applause.
“They weren’t shouting or whistling, just showing support of the board’s decision. Taking this action took a lot of courage,” Grose said.
The Sunday, Sept. 24, bulletin at Calvary United Methodist Church included two notes of thanks from her parents and two daughters.
“Thank you Calvary for making September 15th such a wonderful day for Tina. It means a lot to know that so many people can forgive and that so many prayers were answered. A special thanks to Rev. Parks for his leadership and belief in second chances, and to Steve Grose for his determination to get Tina a better life. Although Tina isn’t free yet, we will be eternally grateful to the members of Calvary for their love and kindness to our family. God bless you all.” —Lorraine and Ernest Brosius.
“Words can’t describe how grateful I am for all of the love and support my family has received from Calvary! When I learned there was a bus full of members from our church coming to show support, I was amazed! I don’t know how we could do it without all of you. My sister Sarah and I want to thank all of you for everything you have done for us and our mom. Please continue to pray for us in the upcoming weeks. Thank you again so much!” — With love, Kerri & Sarah Brosius.
Parks said the congregation at Calvary claims Tina Brosius in their family of faith.
“We kick those words around, of being brothers and sisters, but I think this congregation took those words personally and that’s what kept them going on faithfully through the years.”
Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at 615-742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.