BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — When the door swung open, Beant Dhillon was met with an astonishing sight.
Her 15-year-old daughter lay on the blood-covered bathroom floor, having given birth minutes earlier. Dhillon hadn’t even known she was pregnant.
The daughter, weak and lightheaded, was led to another room while Dhillon was left alone with her newborn grandson. She began thinking about what others in Bakersfield’s considerable Sikh community would say about her daughter’s pregnancy, and the possible shame it would bring to the family.
In those moments, Dhillon decided on a horrifying course of action, prosecutors said. She took her grandson, placed him face down in several inches of water in the bathtub and watched him drown. Then she buried him in the backyard of her southwest Bakersfield home.
On Friday, Dhillon , 45, was sentenced to 25 years to life, plus four years. She sat with her head bowed most of the hearing, dressed in brown jail-issued clothing and wearing a yellow head covering, plus a mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
A jury convicted Dhillon in December of first-degree murder and two assault charges, one filed in connection with the baby’s death on Nov. 12, 2018, the other for failing to get her daughter medical care after the birth.
Before sentencing, Dhillon’s daughter and teen son addressed the court, both saying they love their mother and have remained in touch with her since her arrest. The daughter said the family needs her.
Defense attorney David A. Torres asked Judge Kenneth C. Twisselman II to consider sentencing Dhillon to probation by finding her predicament to be an “unusual case” under state law, where justice would best be served with a probationary term.
Torres argued Dhillon is also a victim, suffering years of abuse at the hands of her husband, who terrorized the entire family. Torres said he struggled to understand the jury’s verdict given the cruelty Dhillon suffered.
“He was the Joseph Stalin of that particular family,” Torres said of the husband. The case is a tragedy for both Dhillon and her children, he said.
Twisselman noted Dhillon had no prior criminal record at the time of her arrest, and that she committed the crime under duress. He also noted she had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
But that didn’t excuse “the gruesome manner in which she treated her grandson at his time of greatest need,” Twisselman said. He found the case didn’t qualify as unusual and imposed the life term.
At trial, Torres argued the baby died soon after birth as a result of the daughter having received no prenatal care, or from blood loss because the baby’s umbilical cord wasn’t tied off after being severed.
He also suggested the baby’s father, an adult cousin of the daughter, may have played a role in the child’s death.
After Friday’s hearing, Torres said the jury may not have understood the extent of the pressure placed on Dhillon in that household.
“It was a house where day and night she had to live with this constant coercion, this constant duress, and that’s something that unfortunately the jury could not perhaps comprehend, and couldn’t comprehend how that would relate to Miss Beant in this case and why the actions in this particular case were committed,” he said.
Deputy District Attorney John Allen, who prosecuted Dhillon, said the jury reached a “just verdict” in a case filled with family tragedy.
“I think that any case that involves family violence, as was demonstrated in court today, is tragic,” he said. “It’s tragic for the entire family, and the consequences for the defendant’s actions have a ripple effect amongst the rest of the family, and I think that’s what makes it truly unfortunate and tragic…”
Allen at trial pointed to Dhillon’s confession — which she later recanted — and the multiple lies she told to investigators as evidence of her guilt. In a recorded interview played for the jury, Dhillon told investigators she drowned the baby because the pregnancy would bring shame to the family.
The beliefs and practices of the Sikh community were a focal point of the trial, with cultural experts explaining how many families in the Punjab region of India — where Dhillon was born — are extremely conservative. Pregnancy outside of wedlock is considered shameful by some in the community, experts called by the defense testified. Many traditional couples, like Dhillon and her deceased husband, are brought together through arranged marriages, and an unwed pregnancy could ruin a woman’s chances of landing a good match.
Some experts also testified that men have more status than women in Sikh society, and women are expected to obey their husbands and fathers.
While acknowledging that some in the Sikh community consider unwed pregnancy shameful, Allen said that certainly didn’t extend to permitting the killing of a child born out of wedlock. He said the Sikh culture promotes peace, and Dhillon’s actions aren’t representative of the community’s mindset.
Allen said Dhillon told multiple lies, including about what happened to the baby in her first few statements to police, about not being able make her own decisions because of her husband, and about how she was bound by cultural traditions to keep quiet and let the men in the family decide what to do.
After she drowned the baby, Dhillon and Bakhshinderpal Singh Mann, the baby’s father, buried the body in the family’s backyard on Shining Crag Avenue, investigators determined. Her husband, Jagsir Singh, 47, was called home from work and took part in the coverup.
The daughter, who passed out after giving birth and was unaware of what had taken place, was later told her son had been put up for adoption.
It wasn’t until months later, following an argument with her father where he threatened to kill her and indicated the baby was buried in the backyard, that the daughter spoke with school counselors, who then called police, according to testimony and court papers.
Police unearthed the baby’s body and arrested Dhillon and Singh. After posting bail on a charge of being an accessory to murder, Singh hanged himself at home.
Mann, who lived with the family and had been carrying on a sexual relationship with the daughter beginning when she was 14 and he was in his early 20s, was outside Kern County when investigators dug up the body. Before her arrest, Dhillon tipped him off that police had arrived at their home, prosecutors said.
Mann has not been located.
The daughter testified only she and Mann knew about the pregnancy. She said she kept it a secret because she knew her parents would be furious.
Dhillon testified she admitted to killing the newborn, but told the jury it was a lie to protect Singh and Mann, both of who were in the country illegally. She said she was afraid what would happen to them if they were charged with a crime.
She testified she never harmed the baby.
Allen, the prosecutor, said that was just one more lie among the many Dhillon told.