KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri mother accused of forcing her emaciated 10-year-old daughter to eat, sleep and go to the bathroom inside a locked closet was found guilty Friday of abusing the girl.
A Jackson County jury took less than three hours to find the woman guilty of endangering the welfare of a child, first-degree assault and child abuse against her daughter, who weighed only 32 pounds when police officers responding to a child abuse hotline call in June 2012 found her barricaded in the urine-soaked closet in a Kansas City apartment.
The Associated Press is not naming the mother to protect the child's identity.
The daughter, who is now 14, testified Tuesday that she was largely kept in the darkened closet and that when she was allowed out, she usually stayed behind the couch or on the floor. Some days she was given no food at all and when she did have food, she usually ate it in the closet or behind the couch.
Testimony in the penalty phase began Friday, shortly after the verdict was announced.
During closing arguments earlier Friday, the woman's attorney argued that she had a personality disorder and other mental health issues that made her believe she was protecting her daughter by keeping her in the closet.
"No mother in her right mind would do that," defense attorney Curtis Winegarner said. "You either have to think that (the mother) is a monster or you have to think she is a person with mental illness who is overwhelmed."
But prosecutors argued the woman knew she was not treating her oldest daughter right.
"Most people treat their dog and cat better than (the girl) was treated," Assistant Jackson County Prosecutor Trisha Lacey said.
Prosecutors said the girl was seldom fed, did not attend school and did not get adequate medical care. They argued the abuse left her so weak that she had a heart transplant in 2013. Defense witnesses said her heart disease could have had "a vast number of causes."
"We don't dispute that (the girl) suffered serious injuries," Winegarner said. "We never said at any time that we were trying to avoid accountability. We don't deny that this child suffered severe malnutrition."
Winegarner stressed defense testimony that said the mother's mental illnesses, including depression, perhaps were caused by a "strained and abusive relationship with her own mother," and that her troubled teen life had a profound influence on her when she became a mother at age 17.
But Lacey told jurors the woman treated her daughter so poorly partly because she resented how much her mother — the girl's grandmother — loved the girl. She also thought her daughter didn't obey her and sometimes soiled her pants out of defiance, the prosecutor said.
Lacey also noted the woman's alleged mental condition did not prevent her from taking good care of her other daughters or socializing with her neighbors. Lacey reminded jurors that the woman told a Kansas City police detective: "I know what I did was wrong."