RINGGOLD, Ga. — Catherine Joann Goins, the woman whom police say killed a mother to steal her baby, is going to prison for the rest of her life.
Goins, 39, pleaded guilty to malice murder, felony murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault and kidnapping during a hearing in Catoosa County Superior Court on Friday morning. Facing a potential death penalty, Goins will instead go to prison for life without the possibility of parole.
Her plea came 20 months after police say she told her friend, Tony Richards, she would need to come by his house. Richards, who was working that day in September 2014, left a key outside for her.
Later that morning, Goins met Natalia Brianne Roberts — and her 3-week-old baby. Goins told her she had some clothes she could donate to the newborn, and Roberts agreed to meet her at Richards' house. Roberts brought her baby and her 3-year-old child.
According to a release from Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin, Goins convinced Roberts to walk down the steps in a narrow hallway. She shot Roberts with a .380 pistol, according to the release, killing her immediately. Then, she called Richards.
Richards told her to call 911, Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk said at the time of the arrest. Instead, according to an indictment, Goins put the children inside Roberts' 2011 Ford Escape and drove away.
Sisk said Richards convinced Goins to come back. When she returned, according to Franklin's release, Goins tried to clean up the blood on the scene. She told police Roberts had burst into the house in a burglary attempt. She said she killed Roberts in self-defense.
That theory fell apart quickly, according to Franklin. For one, investigators could tell Goins shot Roberts in the back of the head. Roberts also fell down the steps, showing Goins was behind her.
According to Franklin's release, Goins was desperate to steal someone's baby. She had been trying to lure other mothers, telling them the same story about having baby's clothes to give away. She even posted ads on Craigslist.
She had also lied about being pregnant in the past, according to the release. Sometimes, she wore a prosthetic baby belly.
"Goins was trolling to steal a baby," Franklin said in his release.
At the time of the arrest, Goins' neighbors told the Times Free Press she had told them she was pregnant.
"She looked like she was ready to have that baby any minute," said Dorothy Hyder.
Another neighbor, Jo Soos, told the Times Free Press that Goins had claimed to be pregnant at least two other times, though she didn't actually have a child.
"It's my understanding," Sisk said Friday, "if I remember it correctly, she was trying to stay with a particular boyfriend. She felt that if she was pregnant and had his child, that would get him to stay with her."
Sisk said Goins dropped her claims of self-defense during interviews with investigators.
"At first, she was denying (the way she killed Roberts), sure," he said. "But within several days of the incident, she did give us a confession."
Franklin announced in January 2015 that he would seek the death penalty in Goins' case. As a result, lawyers from the Office of the Georgia Capital Defenders were appointed to the case. What followed were months of pretrial motions, though few of them revealed evidence about the case itself.
But with the confession to the sheriff's office weighing against her, Goins eventually chose to plead guilty, avoiding the potential death penalty.
If convicted by a jury, she would have been the only woman on death row in Georgia. The last woman to face the death penalty, Kelly Renee Gissendaner, was executed in September.
Sisk said prosecutors consulted with Roberts' family before accepting the guilty plea, making sure they knew this meant Goins would not be put to death. He added that her family members are raising her daughters.
"They're a good, Christian family," Sisk said. "They had to come to terms with (the plea deal). And this is the way they felt they were led to go."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@times freepress.com or at 423-757-6476.