ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The mother of an 11-year-old Florida girl who was found dead in a freezer at a relative's home was indicted Tuesday on first-degree murder charges, authorities said.
A grand jury handed up the indictment charging Keishanna Thomas, according to the Manatee County State Attorney's office.
Documents filed with the county's court clerk revealed months of abuse of 11-year-old Janiya, and the grand jury used the word "tortured" when describing the conditions under which the girl lived.
The indictment said Keishanna Thomas killed Janiya by "starving her and/or asphyxiating her and/or drowning her." A man who dated Thomas since August said he didn't even know she had a child named Janiya.
The documents paint a horrific portrait of Janiya's young life in Bradenton, a small city south of Tampa on Florida's Gulf Coast. The girl's cousin told investigators that Janiya had a medical condition that caused her to lose control of her bladder and bowels. A family friend said Keishanna Thomas was upset that her daughter had the condition, and liked to keep the house spotless with bleach.
The family friend told investigators that Janiya was once placed in water that contained too much bleach, and that her skin turned red. The girl's siblings told investigators that their mother would lock Janiya in the bathroom day and night and had blocked the door with a large trunk to prevent her from leaving.
Last December, neighbors saw the then-10-year-old Janiya going through the garbage in the apartment complex cans. The girl told the neighbor that she was looking for food for her and her siblings.
Thomas had withdrawn Janiya from school in the spring of 2013 and was allegedly homeschooling her, a probable cause affidavit said, but had not submitted the required documentation for academic evaluation.
Thomas has been in custody at the Manatee County jail on bonds totaling $200,000 on charges of abuse, aggravated child abuse and abuse of a dead body. During several court hearings, she refused to talk about the girl's whereabouts.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Thomas could face the death penalty.
A call to her public defender, Franklin Roberts, was not immediately returned.
An assistant to Manatee County Assistant State Attorney Art Brown confirmed the indictment Tuesday. She identified herself as Brittany but per office policy, did not give a last name.
Authorities say Janiya's body was found Oct. 18 in a freezer that Thomas had delivered to a relative's house. The girl had been placed in a cardboard box and she appeared to be emaciated.
A state report noted that Manatee County Sheriff's child protective investigators and partnering agencies for years failed to accurately assess the pattern of violence in the home and the safety threat to the children.
Thomas has four other children, all of whom are in the custody of relatives.
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