Stepdad gets 29 years for killing 7-year-old girl

Image: Nixzmary Brown
Nixzmary Brown is seen in a kindergarten photo provided by a family friend. Nixzmary's death led to reforms within child protections agencies.AP file
/ Source: staff and news service reports

The killer of 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown, the malnourished, tortured girl whose case shocked the city and prompted child welfare reforms, was sentenced to a maximum of 29 years in prison.

Stepfather Cesar Rodriguez, 29, was convicted of manslaughter and other counts last month in connection with the child's death. The child was bound to a chair, starved and forced to urinate in a litter box before she was killed.

In a short statement, Rodriguez told the judge: "I loved Nixzmary. I can honestly say that I'm being accused of something I didn't do." His lawyer blamed Nixzmary's mother for the girl's death, echoing the defense that he used at the trial this year.

Jeffrey Schwartz said his client had been unjustly portrayed as a monster and was in fact an "angel" who tried to do the right thing when it came to his family.

"He took the blame for so much more than he actually did," Schwartz said.

Rodriquez's lawyer plans an appeal.

The case shocked the city and led to changes in New York City's child welfare agency after caseworkers overlooked signs of abuse. The girl was so malnourished before she died that she weighed only 36 pounds — about half the weight of an average girl her age — and had gained only a pound in the previous 2 1/2 years.

Rodriguez dodged a murder conviction at his trial last month but was convicted of the lesser manslaughter count. He received the maximum 25 years on manslaughter and four more years for additional lesser counts.

Her mother is expected to face a separate murder trial later this year.

His 'violent ways'
Prosecutor Ama Dwimoh had asked state Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Hall to impose the maximum sentence on Rodriguez, who sat stone-faced and motionless throughout the hearing.

She recounted Rodriguez's troubled criminal past, saying "there is no end to Cesar Rodriguez's violent ways."

Rodriguez wasn't entitled to any mercy or compassion from the court, Dwimoh said. He didn't show Nixzmary any, Dwimoh said, ignoring her last pleas before her death in January 2006.

Before Rodriguez was sentenced, Schwartz asked that the verdict be set aside in the "interest of justice." He accused the prosecution of withholding evidence and playing games.

Case of torture
During earlier court proceedings, Nixzmary's grandmother said the child lived in fear of the stepfather. Grandmother Maria Gonzalez had testified that she saw Rodriguez shake Nixzmary "really hard" two months before she was fatally beaten in January 2006.

Evidence in the nearly three-month-long trial in state Supreme Court included grim crime scene photos from the room where Nixzmary was bound to a chair, starved and forced to urinate in the litter box. More than once, court officers passed out tissues so weeping jurors could dry their eyes.

The prosecution had relied heavily on a videotaped statement in which Rodriguez said that on the little girl’s last night, he caught her stealing yogurt and decided to punish her by sticking her head under running bath water “to make her think.”

Investigators suspect the girl’s head was smashed against the faucet — something her stepfather denied doing.

Rodriguez admitted he had abused the little girl but denied killing her, saying on tape, “Sometimes she’d get me real angry, and I used to just throw her on the floor. ... She was always lying to me about everything.”