Falls woman pleads not guilty to murder of three-month-old

A Niagara Falls woman pleaded not guilty Monday to killing a three-month-old girl who allegedly died in her care in February.

Samantha Klein, 30, of North Avenue, was arraigned in Niagara County Court on two counts of second-degree manslaughter and one count each of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter.

Alaya Foster reportedly died early Feb. 23 from blunt force trauma to the head, shortly after being rushed to the hospital. District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek said Niagara Falls police had been investigating Foster's death as a homicide since February, and Defense Attorney Brian Hutchison said his client long had been aware of the investigation.

“Justice for this beautiful, innocent child has been a top priority for my office. Alaya was loved by many family and friends. I appreciate their patience and trust in our office to pursue this case," Wojtaszek said in a press release.

"Due to the nature of these type of cases, building a case can take time," Wojtaszek added. "While that is often a reality, it is of little comfort for the family. The Niagara Falls Police Department and my office made a promise to do everything we could seek justice in this case."

Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III set Klein's bail at $100,000 cash or $200,000 bond, though prosecutors asked that she be remanded without bail. Several spectators, including the infant's mother, Domonique Hilson, protested Murphy's decision to allow Klein to be released on bail.

Hilson reportedly said she left Alaya with a friend, who had babysat Foster on several prior occasions, the night before Alaya suffered the fatal injuries. The next day, Hilson asked the friend when she would return the baby, and the friend told her she would bring Alaya back later and that everything was fine, according to WIVB-TV. But later the night of Feb. 22, Alaya was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead.

Klein maintains she is innocent of killing Alaya. She told WKBW-TV that Alaya had a bruise on her face when she arrived in her care, and that she did nothing to hurt her.

"I did nothing to that baby," Klein said.

Hutchison said as much in court Monday. "My client is maintaining her innocence," he said.

Klein, who is incarcerated at Erie County Holding Center on a separate matter, was also arraigned Monday on charges in two other cases — a Christmas Eve knifepoint robbery in Niagara Falls and selling the opioid fentanyl in the city in June and July 2018.

Klein pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted first-degree robbery, attempted second-degree assault, third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance.

Assistant District Attorney Ryan Parisi said Klein tried to slash a woman in the robbery, but the victim did not suffer a serious injury.