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SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - A Utah mother accused of killing six of her newborn babies over the course of a decade made her first appearance in court on Monday and was appointed a public defender after telling the judge she has not earned an income in two years.
Megan Huntsman, 39, was ordered to return to court in a week for a resumption of proceedings against her, giving police more time to assemble evidence authorities said they need to bring formal charges, Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman said.
"The judge's expectation is that we'll have charges by then," Buhman told Reuters after the brief hearing in Provo, Utah, south of Salt Lake City. "She did not order that, but she certainly indicated that's what she's expecting."
Buhman said he intended to charge Huntsman by next Monday.
Huntsman was arrested April 13 on suspicion of murdering six newborns whose bodies were found rolled up in shirts, towels and plastic bags and stashed inside cardboard boxes in the garage of her former home in Pleasant Grove, just north of Provo.
Pleasant Grove police said Huntsman admitted under questioning that she strangled or suffocated the six babies just after they were born in a rare case of serial infanticide that ran from 1996 to 2006.
The body of a seventh infant born during that period and disposed of the same way was also found in the garage, but police believe that child was stillborn.
Police said Huntsman secretly gave birth to all seven babies at the house without medical assistance after apparently managing to keep her pregnancies concealed from the outside world.
Police say she explained her rationale for the killings to investigators but they have not revealed the alleged motive publicly.
Adding to the puzzle is the fact that Huntsman has three surviving daughters, ages 14, 18 and 20, who live at the house. At least one of them, the youngest, was presumably born during the period in which the mother is suspected of slaying the babies.
The sisters share the house with the sister and brother-in-law of their father, Huntsman's estranged spouse, who discovered one of the bodies while cleaning out the garage and called authorities, police have said.
Buhman said medical examiners have conducted autopsies on the remains of the infants but it will take time for toxicology studies and other tests to be completed, including DNA analysis to confirm their parentage.
(This version of the story corrects the spelling of Utah County attorney's surname throughout.)
Reporting by Jennifer Dobner in Salt Lake City; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh