It was the 17th of March, 2011, when police in Sacramento, California, received a distraught phone call from 29-year-old Ka Yang informing them that there had been a tragic accident at her home. When paramedics arrived at the scene, they found the lifeless body of six-week-old Mirabelle Thao-Lo. She was suffering from facial injuries and according to Yang, she had been holding her daughter in her arms when she had a seizure and dropped her. She claimed that when she awoke, she found her daughter next to a space heater.
Suspicion immediately fell onto Yang and paramedics would alert the police. Mirabelle was suffering from extremely deep tissue burns as well as fourth-degree burns and her injuries did not quite correlate with what Yang was claiming had happened. However, since investigators weren’t sure what had transpired, there was not enough evidence for an arrest. Nevertheless, Yang’s three other children, all under the age of seven, were removed from her care.1
Three months after the death, Yang was arrested and charged with her daughter’s murder. According to Officer Laura Peck, the arrest had taken such a long time because police needed to pinpoint how exactly the injuries had been inflicted. During their investigation, they had compared the injuries to injuries sustained in other similar cases of children who had died, including children who had been burned in a microwave. Officer Peck stated: “This is rare. The injures were obviously unique.” In fact, there were only three other documented cases where the injuries were consistent.2
Investigators had reached the conclusion that Yang had placed her baby daughter in the microwave. An autopsy had showed that she had extensive thermal injuries and it was these injuries which had ultimately caused her death. These injuries were consistent with the three known cases of babies being placed in a microwave. “At the police department, we are asking the same question the community is, which is what would provoke a mother to do something like this?”3
Following Yang’s arrest, it would be revealed that when police came to her home immediately after Mirabelle’s death, she had suggested that she was suffering from a split personality and that a pacifier was found in the microwave. Prosecutors would charge her with one count of murder with the special circumstance that the killing was intentional and involved torture. This meant that if she were found guilty, she would be eligible for the death penalty.4
Just the month after the arrest, it was revealed that Yang, who was behind bars, was pregnant. Meanwhile, the Sacramento District Attorney announced that they would not be seeking the death penalty against Yang and instead would be seeking life without parole. They said her lack of a criminal background as well as other things had led to their decision.
In February of the following year, it was announced that Yang would be standing trial. Furthermore, Judge Eugene Balanon found that there was enough evidence to support a special allegation that Yang had tortured her daughter. During the hearing to announce the update, the pathologist who conducted the autopsy disclosed that the microwave had essentially cooked Mirabelle’s stomach and small intestine which amounted to torture.5
According to Yang’s defence lawyer, Linda Parisi, Yang had suffered from seizures that went back at least seven years. She and the prosecution got into a sparring match regarding the capabilities of a person in the middle of a seizure. According to investigators, Yang had told them she had no recollection of placing Mirabelle in the microwave and that she had suffered from a seizure. “I see a white flash, I see trees, then I have a seizure,” she had reported.6
While it was true that Yang had suffered from seizures, the difficult part for the jury was going to be determine whether these seizures had a part to play in the death of her daughter. Her defence team was alleging that she had placed Mirabelle in the microwave while in the middle of a seizure and therefore, was not criminally responsible for her death.
The trial began in November of 2015 and prosecutors would reveal that Yang had placed her daughter in the microwave for anywhere between 2.5 minutes and 5 minutes. She had suffered burns covering 60% of her body, including radiation burns which had penetrated her internal organs. They argued that Yang did not have a seizure that day and that she had repeatedly lied to investigators about what had caused her daughter’s death and that when they arrived at the scene, she did not appear to be disorientated.
Yang’s defence would stick to their theory that Yang had put her daughter in the microwave while in a post-seizure state of unconsciousness known as the “postictal stage.”7
The jury would ultimately reject the defence’s claims and would find Ka Yang guilty of the murder of Mirabelle Thao-Lo. She would be sentenced to 26 years to life in prison.
- The Sacramento Bee, 22 June, 2011 – “Mom Held in Baby’s Death”
- Associated Press, 21 June, 2021 – “Calif. Mom Arrested After Baby Dies in Microwave”
- FOX – 40 KTXL, 21 June, 2011 – “Sacramento Mother Accused of Burning Baby to Death in Microwave?”
- Associated Press, 23 June, 2011 – “Calif Mom Arraigned in Microwave Death of Baby”
- Associated Press, 21 February, 2012 – “Sacramento Woman to Stand Trial in Microwave Death”
- The Sacramento Bee 21 February, 2012 – “Sacramento Woman to Stand Trial”
- The Sacramento Bee, 13 November, 2015 – “Mom Convicted of Murder in 2011 Killing of Infant Daughter”