WAYNE - A judge on Friday found probable cause that two women should each face a charge of desecration of human remains for hiding a newborn's body in the basement of a Balsam Road home for several months.
The cases of Nicole Tsentas, 33, and Amanda Walker, 36, will be referred to a grand jury for consideration of the second-degree charges, which carry penalties of five to 10 years in prison.
Judge Justine Niccollai, sitting in state Superior Court in Paterson, released the women from Passaic County Jail, but she imposed strict conditions- especially for Walker, who has a more serious criminal history. She was ordered to pursue inpatient drug treatment, or be confined to home detention.
"You need to pull it together," the judge said directly to Walker, who most recently lived on Arch Street in Paterson. "You're a mother. You're a daughter. You're supposed to be doing what you need to do."
Tsentas, the judge said, must undergo outpatient drug counseling in addition to mental health counseling. She will be required to live with her father in Emerson.
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The women were also instructed to refrain from contacting each other.
Tsentas and Walker's virtual hearings were separate, the co-defendants appearing on camera from a soundproof booth at the jail.
In July 2020, prosecutors allege, Tsentas gave birth after suddenly feeling "discomfort in her abdomen." She allegedly did not know that she was pregnant.
The baby was not breathing or moving, Tsentas told authorities, according to an arrest affidavit. Its body was wrapped in a blanket in her closet for the next four mounts until she confided in Walker about the birth.
Walker offered to take the fetus. The affidavit states that she then wrapped it in a towel and put it in a "Harry Potter" tote bag, which was placed in a storage bin in her parents' basement on Balsam Road in the Pines Lake neighborhood.
The grim find occurred on Mother's Day.
Prosecutors allege that Walker contacted her parents to tell them Tsentas wanted to pick up the bag in the container. One of them retrieved it from the basement and detected an odor, the affidavit states.
Walker's parent carried the bag outdoors and opened to find the body.
In arguing that Tsentas and Walker should stay detained, senior Assistant Prosecutor Allan Nawrocki said the offenses were "egregious" and that the body may never have been discovered, if not for the disagreement between the co-defendants.
"It didn't take a day, or two days or a week before something happened to this baby stuffed in a closet," he said. "It took two years - it was hidden away for two years."
Caitlin Kenny, an attorney representing Tsentas, said there was not probable cause to charge her client.
In making her argument, she cited a case in which the court held that a "fetus isn't in the protected class of New Jersey's homicide law."
"There's no evidence before this court that the fetus was ever viable, or ever alive, when Nicole reportedly gave birth," Kenny said. "It's our position that, in order for there to be a body of a deceased person, the person had to have been viable at some juncture."
Niccollai dismissed that argument, ruling there was enough probable cause to believe the baby may have been born alive.
"There's no definitive statement," she ruled, "that this child was absolutely - 100% - born deceased."
Philip DeVencentis is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Wayne NJ: Two women released from custody in case of dead newborn