It could’ve been much worse. Amanda Culley could be dead right now, Jackson County Assistant Prosecutor Traci Stansell said.

 It could’ve been much worse. Amanda Culley could be dead right now, Jackson County Assistant Prosecutor Traci Stansell said.

Instead, Culley is alive and well. Alive to witness the sentencing of Lauren Gash, who kidnapped and assaulted her in a twisted effort to slice open her womb and steal the unborn baby from her body.

A judge Tuesday sentenced Gash, 20, to eight years in prison on three felony counts of kidnapping, first-degree assault and felonious restraint. Gash pleaded guilty to all three counts last month.

Jackson County Judge Stephen Nixon told Gash that she would serve a minimum of more than six and a half of the eight years before being elgible for parole. It was the maximum sentence he could impose.

“In all my years, I have never encountered a case like this,” Stansell  told the judge, “and I’ve seen some bad cases. It horrified me.”

The story began in late July, when Culley met a girl who went by “Ashley” on Myspace. Culley was pregnant and needed baby clothes. Ashley, later identified as Lauren Gash of Odessa, had some clothes she would sell cheap to Culley.

Gash and Culley and a third girl, Alisa Betts,18, of Atchison, Kan.,  met in Clinton on July 30, 2007. They got in a car and traveled toward Warrensburg.

“They were really friendly at first,” Culley told the court during testimony.

About 3 to 4 miles outside Warrensburg, they pulled onto a gravel road. That’s when Culley got scared. She pulled out her cell phone to call her mom for help.

Suddenly, Gash sprayed her in the face with pepper spray. A struggle followed between the two, with Gash grabbing the phone from Culley.

They drove to the Interstate Inn in Blue Springs. There, Gash shoved a washcloth in Culley’s mouth and wrapped pink duct tape across the mouth. She also bound her hands.

Culley recounted in court that Gash sat on her stomach. She twisted her head and flailed her arms at Culley’s head.

“I begged for her to stop,” Culley testified.

It did stop.

Blue Springs Police showed up a short time later. Betts, who had thrown up several times after the three arrived at the motel, apparently called police claiming that a pregnant woman was screaming with labor pains at the motel.

Betts was charged with kidnapping and first degree assault, too. A jury trial is scheduled for Oct. 27.

According to Stansell, police showed up before a horrific crime would have taken place.

Gash was going to cut and remove the unborn baby from Culley’s body and keep the child as her own, Stansell said.

Authorities found equipment that Gash needed to perform the operation: scissors, plastic drop cloth, and a fisherman’s cleaning kit. Stansell called it a “fish-gutting kit.” Also, they found a fake birth certificate with the name “Johnny Gash.”

Gash said that taking the unborn baby may have been the original plan, but it changed while they were at the motel room. She couldn’t go through with it. Gash had told her family that she had given birth. She needed to find a baby.

The two decided they would drop off Culley at a hospital and “not get caught,” by authorities, Gash said in court.

“I wish I could take it all back,” a distraught and tearful Gash told the victim and her family. “I pray everyday that maybe she could forgive me.”

Armin Rust, Gash’s attorney, told the judge that authorities didn’t charge her with attempted murder because there was no evidence to support that charge.

“That (the incident) was the stupidest thing this girl has done in her life,” Rust said, pointing to Gash. “But it wasn’t attempted murder.”

Culley said Gash shouldn’t be “on the streets anytime soon” and should get counseling once she’s released from prison.

A few days after the attack, Culley gave birth to a baby boy, Ethan. The 1-year-old also attended the sentencing, alive and healthy. 

PHOTO CUTLINE: Amanda Culley,19, talks with reporters outside the Jackson County Courthouse Annex in Independence following the sentencing of Lauren Gash, a woman who attempted to steal her unborn baby from her womb last year. Ethan, the baby who Culley was carrying at the time, and his father, Andrew Culley, look on.