Trial for Mother of Battered NYC Girl Who Died

Marchella Pierce, 4, was found dead tied to a bed last year, and weighed 18 pounds, nearly half the weight of an average 4-year-old.

By Colleen Long
|  Tuesday, Apr 17, 2012  |  Updated 6:36 AM EDT
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Marchella Pierce, 4, was found dead tied to a bed last year, and weighed 18 pounds, nearly half the weight of an average 4-year-old. Now Pierce's mother is on trial. Melissa Russo reports.

NBC New York

Marchella Pierce, 4, was found dead tied to a bed last year, and weighed 18 pounds, nearly half the weight of an average 4-year-old. Now Pierce's mother is on trial. Melissa Russo reports.

The mother and grandmother of a 4-year-old found starved, battered and drugged went on trial Monday in the girl's death.

Carlotta Brett-Pierce and her mother, Loretta Brett, have pleaded not guilty to murder and manslaughter, respectively, in the death of Marchella Pierce. The girl was found dead tied to a bed, and weighed 18 pounds, nearly half the weight of an average 4-year-old. They say she died from battered child syndrome.

Brett-Pierce's attorney has said the woman was a good mother. Brett's attorney said the grandmother was a caregiver and had tried to raise the children in the home, and didn't know about the abuse. Two juries are hearing the case.

Two child welfare workers assigned to Marchella's case also have been charged and are awaiting trial; prosecutors said their negligence contributed to the girl's demise. They have pleaded not guilty, saying they are being blamed for crimes they didn't commit.

The Administration for Children's Services became involved with the family after Brett-Pierce gave birth to a boy who tested positive for drugs. Marchella had been born premature with underdeveloped lungs and had serious trouble breathing.

She had a breathing tube in her throat and was allowed home for the first time from the hospital in February 2011, when she weighed 26 pounds. By the time of her death, she had wasted away. She had been tied to her bed for days, beaten and had up to 30 adult doses of Benadryl and 60 doses of Claritin in her system, prosecutors said.

After her death, the child welfare agency announced it was enacting a series of changes to improve how it handles families with complex medical issues. The City Council also guaranteed $13.6 million in funding for services aimed at preventing abuse and neglect.

The girl's death harkened back to the 2006 case of Nixzmary Brown, a 7-year-old who died of abuse and malnourishment under the noses of her teachers and ACS workers.

No caseworkers were charged in that case, but the agency also undertook a series of similar changes, including adding more funding and implementing a new case tracking system. Welfare workers have said they remain overwhelmed with cases.

Brooklyn State Supreme Court Judge Patricia DiMango is presiding over the current trial, and also presided over the trial for Nixzmary's mother, who was convicted and is serving a prison sentence of up to 43 years. Nixzmary's stepfather is serving 29 years on a manslaughter conviction for delivering the fatal blow.

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