NBC New York
Defense lawyers say Marchella Pierce's mother behaved "stupidly" and "inexplicably," but argue that behavior doesn't constitute murder. Melissa Russo reports.
A grandmother accused of doing little to help her battered, 4-year-old granddaughter was convicted Friday of manslaughter in the girl's death.
Loretta Brett was found guilty, two days after a separate jury convicted the girl's mother of murder in toddler Marchella Pierce's 2010 death.
Both women are to be sentenced June 6. The mother, Carlotta Brett-Pierce, faces up to life in prison; Loretta Brett faces up to 15 years.
Marchella was routinely tied to her bed and had been drugged the day she was found dead. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes' office said Loretta Brett, who lived with her daughter and grandchildren, did little to intervene in what prosecutors called a tragic case of battered child's syndrome.
Brett's lawyer, Julie Clark, argued that her client was a loving grandmother who tried to keep the home together — and wasn't responsible for the girl's care.
"She had no legal duty to do what (prosecutors) are alleging she should have done," Clark said after the verdict.
She said Brett planned to appeal and noted that Brett was acquitted of an assault charge that could have added up to seven years to her sentence.
Marchella lived at home for only seven months before she was found dead Sept. 2, 2010. She was born premature and spent much of her life in hospitals with a collapsed lung and a breathing tube, but she had been happy there, according to trial testimony. At home with her mother and grandmother, she was bound to her broken plastic toddler bed with a jump rope, and was given food she could not digest, according to testimony.
She was also beaten and drugged. When police found her body, she had 60 adult doses of Claritin and 30 doses of Benadryl in her system, a medical examiner said. Her stomach contained one kernel of corn. She weighed 18.8 pounds, half the weight of an average child her age.
The case shined some light on fresh cracks in the city's child welfare system. Brett-Pierce was on the radar of the city's child welfare system after she gave birth to a boy who tested positive for drugs. She was in drug counseling, but no abuse cases were opened, and the Administration for Children's Services admits it did not do enough to help her or her three children.
Two child welfare workers assigned to Marchella's case have been charged with criminally negligent homicide and are awaiting trial; prosecutors said the workers' negligence contributed to the girl's demise. The two have pleaded not guilty, saying they are being blamed for crimes they didn't commit.
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