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RINGGOLD, Ga. -- Lawyers for Catherine Goins, the Catoosa County, Ga., woman accused of killing a stranger to steal her baby, say the state sicced a snitch on her.

The defense attorneys said during a Tuesday pretrial hearing in Superior Court that a woman named Sasha Nichole Van Pelt approached Goins in jail earlier this month. They say Van Pelt asked Goins questions about the murder case because somebody put her up to it.

"This person was told to go in and talk to our client," said Crystal Bice with the Georgia Capital Defenders Office. "It wasn't clear 'told by whom.' ... It is a violation for the state to send anyone in."

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Catherine Goins

If someone did order Van Pelt to press Goins for information, Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin said, that person wasn't from the prosecutor's office. Franklin said he doesn't know anything about a plan to plant an informant in the jail.

An investigator with the district attorney's office interviewed Van Pelt last week. She denied questioning Goins to help the police or prosecutors.

She could not be reached for comment Tuesday. When a reporter showed up at the trailer listed as Van Pelt's address, the women living there said they had never heard of her.

Making the situation more suspicious -- at least in Goins' eyes -- is the supposed informant's last name. It is the same as the judge presiding over her case: Ralph Van Pelt Jr.

"I suspect, based on what I've heard, that she is a distant relative," the judge told the attorneys Tuesday. "But I do not know her."

Bice and Jerilyn Bell, Goins' other attorney, said they have no problem with Ralph Van Pelt continuing to hear the case.

Sasha Van Pelt was in the Catoosa County Jail May 1-8 after Fort Oglethorpe police arrested her on a shoplifting charge. The day before Van Pelt left jail, Goins' attorneys filed a motion for a separation order, which would keep Goins and Van Pelt away from each other.

Should Sasha Van Pelt get arrested again, the judge ruled Tuesday, the sheriff's office will have to keep her in a part of the jail separate from Goins. Sheriff Gary Sisk also can ship Sasha Van Pelt to another county.

Goins' lawyers wrote in their court motion that their client, who is charged with malice murder, has received a lot of attention from other inmates.

"She has been targeted because of her charges," the attorneys wrote. "The notoriety surrounding her arrest and the allegation of what was done and why [it was done] has permeated the population of the jail."

On Sept. 16, according to the sheriff's office, Goins met Natalia Roberts, the mother of a 3-year-old and a 3-week-old. Goins invited Roberts to a friend's house. She said she had baby clothes that she could give her.

But police say Goins trapped Roberts to steal her children. They say Goins' boyfriend had left her weeks earlier when he found out she lied to him about being pregnant. They think Goins hoped to take the children to trick her ex into thinking the baby was his.

So, according to the sheriff's office, as Roberts walked down the stairs in a stranger's home on Sept. 19, Goins shot her in the back of the head. She then took the children and drove away. Sheriff Gary Sisk would not say in September where the children were when their mother died.

After the killing, Goins called the friend who owned the house and told him what happened. The friend, who was at work, drove home and convinced Goins to return. The friend then called the police.

In January, Franklin announced he is seeking the death penalty against Goins.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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