Sarah Whitney Ganoe sentenced to 37 years in for murder of her 10-month-old baby and stabbing of her 8-year-old half-sister

[Newport News, VA – September 8, 2023] – Sarah Whitney Ganoe has been sentenced to 37 years behind bars for the murder of her 10-month-old baby boy, Zell Howard, and the brutal stabbing of her 8-year-old half-sister, whose life was miraculously spared.

On May 10, 2021, the Newport News Police Department responded to a harrowing scene at the family’s Denbigh apartment. The discovery of little Zell Howard, motionless and stabbed multiple times, at the foot of Ganoe’s bed, while his sister, who endured 49 knife wounds and survived, was nearby.

Ganoe was charged with second-degree murder, aggravated malicious wounding, two counts of felony child abuse, and two counts of stabbing in the commission of a felony. In June, she pleaded guilty to four of the six charges as part of a plea agreement. Under the plea, she still faced the possibility of life imprisonment on the aggravated malicious wounding count, with an additional 60 years for the other charges. Prosecutors firmly believed that the heinous nature of the crime warranted a life sentence.

During sentencing, Ganoe attempted to attribute her actions to the pressures of her upbringing and alcohol consumption, but the prosecution firmly rejected those claims, arguing for a life sentence. “[Ganoe] felt saddled with her children,” stated Newport News Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jamie Lawson. “She drank that day, and it lowered her inhibitions — but she did exactly what she had always intended to do. The rest were just excuses.”

Ganoe’s defense attorneys sought a sentence of no more than 20 years, while discretionary state guidelines recommended a sentence of 10-20 years. Circuit Court Judge Matthew W. Hoffman ultimately handed down a 37-year prison sentence.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Howard Gwynn expressed his gratitude for the dedication of his team, the swift response of law enforcement, and the resolution brought about by the judicial system in this heart-wrenching case. “Our community has been deeply affected by this tragedy, and it is our duty to ensure that justice is served. While no sentence can ever truly heal the wounds inflicted, we hope that today’s verdict brings some measure of closure and solace to the family of the victims.” he said.

This case was prosecuted for the Commonwealth by Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Travis White and Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jamie Lawson.

Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney
Phone: 757-926-7443
2501 Washington Avenue, 6th Floor
Newport News, VA 23607

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The Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney prosecutes criminal cases that occur within the City of Newport News, on behalf of the citizens of the Commonwealth. The elected Commonwealth’s Attorney is Mr. Howard E. Gwynn.