Court records for infanticide present several mysteries. In three centuries of colonial rule, Venezuela’s Mérida province had just one court case for infanticide. During the first three decades of Venezuela’s independence, the province had over thirty cases, while the country’s other provinces had none. The defendants in these cases were all poor, illiterate, single women. Curiously, court officials endeavored to acquit even in the face of incriminating evidence, such that the courts convicted only those mothers that confessed. This article explores how these women explained to officials why they killed and/or hid the body, and why the judicial system prosecuted these cases, given that the colonial system did not and officials were inclined to acquit. The investigation finds that the mothers explained their actions as principally due to economic and emotional desperation, including fear of punishment from their parents, rather than an intent to preserve their feminine honor. Further, the provincial judicial system began to prosecute this crime as part of a larger project to build a liberal, patriarchal republic. The prosecutions facilitated civilian-state relations, legitimized nascent institutions, sought to protect the mothers and “reform” their morals, and shielded fathers from responsibility for illicit sex.