Baby dies, mom faces murder charges after bathtub drowning

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- A 20-month-old girl who spent weeks fighting for her life has died. And now, her mother is facing murder charges, after Goodyear police say she held the child under water in the bathtub.

Phoeteama Neal is behind bars on a $1 million bond. According to police, the charges against Neal were upgraded from attempted murder to murder once the baby died.

In a 911 call the day of the August incident, Neal tells the dispatcher "I drowned my baby."

Police say Neal forced the baby into the bathtub and held her head under water until her body went lifeless.

According to court documents, Neal was in the middle of a custody battle with the father of her daughter. Neal, an Air Force Staff Sergeant, was being sent on assignment to Turkey. A judge ruled she could not take the baby with her.

Court documents show Neal tried asking her supervisor to take her off the assignment. Within hours of that request, before she received a response from her supervisor, police say Neal came home and tried drowning her daughter in the bathtub.

Nadine Bowen was just getting out of her car, bringing in her groceries when she saw her parking lot filled with police cars and first responders.

"We were like face to face right here. And I stopped and my bag’s dropped and she walked by me just like a zombie," Bowen says, referring to Neal.

Bowen says Neal had her daughter in her arms: "Victoria was limp and grey," she says. "There was foam all over her face."

Bowen, who says she had many conversations with Neal about the custody battle, knew instantly what happened.

"I went, 'something ain’t right here; she killed that baby,'" Bowen says.

Victoria spent weeks on life support with a one percent chance of survival. Police say her father was by her side when the family made the decision to take her off of life support.

Bowen believes Neal made a calculated decision to kill her child.

"This was all about if I can't have her, he ain’t gonna have her," Bowen says. "She held that baby’s head under. That’s sick. That’s just hate. That’s, like, the devil."