Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nixzmary’s Stepfather Convicted of Manslaughter

By Victoria Gaponski & Robeert Abruzzese

A Brooklyn jury today convicted the stepfather of first-degree manslaughter in the death of 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown whose horrific story of abuse led to reforms in the city approach to protecting children.

Cesar Rodriguez, 29, who faced life in prison on murder charges, now faced a 25-year maximum sentence.

After the verdict friends and family were upset that the penalty was not stiffer.

“I expected them to charge him with second degree murder,” said a weeping Welda Cordeo, a family friend who occasionally baby-sat Nixzmary. “He didn’t get it. Eventually he’ll pay for it; his guilt is going to kill him.”

The jury reached a verdict on the fourth day of deliberations. After the third day the jurors asked Justice L. Priscilla Hall to repeat legal definitions for second and first-degree manslaughter and then second-degree murder charges, leading courtroom observers to speculate that he would be found guilty of the greater charge.

“A jury has spoken,” said a disappointed Assistant District Attorney Alma Dwimoh who portrayed the defendant at trial as a cruel taskmaster who got angry when the 36-pound girl “stole” a cup of yogurt. “I’ll always respect the voice of the jury. I’m grateful that at least they are holding him accountable. He did kill her.”

Rodriguez’s attorney Jeffrey T. Schwartz had contended that while Rodriguez beat his stepdaughter it was the mother, Nixzaliz Santiago, who dealt the deathblow. Santiago is being tried separately on murder charges.

“Nixzaliz is the crazy one,” Schwartz said in response to the verdict. “She should be charged with second-degree murder.”

The night of Nixzmary’s death, January 11, 2006, Rodriguez admitted that he punished the girl when he stuck her head under a running bathtub faucet, but denied killing her. Investigators claim that the child’s head was probably smashed against the faucet which killed her.

The defense also tried to focus the jury’s attention on a witness who was supposedly going to corroborate their story that
Santiago acted alone in the death of her daughter. But during the trial the witness testified that
Santiago claimed they acted together.

During the nine-week trial, Schwartz had repeatedly asked for a mistrial since the prosecution delayed handing over testimony, specifically psychiatric analysis’, which the defense claims weakened their case.

“If we were given the material on time, the sentencing might have been lower,” said Schwartz. “We get our butts whipped most of the time because the system is broken and needs to be fixed.”

Rodriguez was also convicted of endangering the welfare of a child and criminal possession of a weapon. The weapons charge stemmed from his use of a belt to beat her and a bungee cord he used to tie her to a chair.

In response to this case, city officials have increased the numbers of caseworkers investigating child abuse cases. Also Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno pushed through ‘Nixzmary’s Law’ in January 2006 which allows prosecutors to charge parents with first-degree murder as the result of child abuse.

Since the law has been passed state officials say that there is a greater public awareness of child abuse.

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