N.Y. mom sentenced to prison over girl's death

Child Death
Nixzaliz Santiago, shown in 2006, was convicted of standing by as her husband beat her 7-year-old daughter to death.Anonymous / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A woman was sentenced to at least 40 years in prison Wednesday for doing nothing as her battered and malnourished 7-year-old daughter lay dying.

Nixzaliz Santiago received more than a decade longer in prison than her husband, who was accused of delivering the fatal blow after the child, Nixzmary Brown, was caught stealing yogurt.

Rodriguez, who was Nixzmary's stepfather, is serving 29 years on a manslaughter conviction, while Santiago was convicted last month of manslaughter, assault and other charges that increased her prison time.

Assistant District Attorney Ama Dwimoh said the 30-year-old mother deserved a harsh punishment for an "act of omission" — failing to save her child's life by taking her to the hospital after the beating in January 2006. She was sentenced to 40 1/3 to 43 years.

"Being held accountable is one and the same under the law," Dwimoh told reporters outside court. "It's not just you beat her and that's it."

Santiago's attorney did not respond to a phone message. Her lawyers had argued during the trial that she was so traumatized and frightened by Rodriguez that she was incapable of helping Nixzmary.

Both trials raised questions of whether mothers should be held to a higher standard than fathers. Prosecutors accused Santiago of not doing her duty to protect her helpless daughter, saying she only summoned help hours after the victim had died.

Some jurors cringed and wept when shown grim crime-scene photos from the room at home where Nixzmary was bound to a chair, starved and forced to urinate in a litter box. She was so malnourished when she died that she weighed only 36 pounds — about half the weight of an average girl that age.

The case, coupled with a series of other high-profile deaths of children known to the agency, sparked public demands for reform of the city's child welfare agency. City officials responded by bolstering the corps of caseworkers.