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Mother accused of starving 3 kids gets life term

Posted on: August 9, 2010

Mother accused of starving 3 kids gets life term

By JEFF CARLTON Associated Press Writer The Associated Press
Friday, July 30, 2010 5:40 PM EDT

FILE -This July 20, 2009 file photo provided by the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office… (AP Photo/Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, File)

DALLAS (AP) — A mother whose three children were found starving after being shut away in a hotel bathroom for as long as nine months was sentenced to life in prison Friday after changing her plea to guilty in the middle of her trial.

Abneris Santiago, 31, had faced between five years and life in prison on a felony charge of injury to a child.

Police rescued Santiago’s 11-year-old daughter and 10- and 5-year-old sons from a bathroom at an extended-stay hotel along one of Dallas’ busiest freeways in July 2009. The children, whose skeletons were visible beneath their flaky, stretched skin, were near death from chronic starvation. Authorities say the girl was repeatedly sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend.

Alfred Santiago was convicted Tuesday of injury to a child and continuous sexual abuse. He was sentenced to two 99-year sentences, to be served concurrently.

The former couple share a last name but never married.

Abneris Santiago’s plea on the third day of testimony came a day after she apologized to her daughter in a tearful courtroom reunion, saying she wasn’t strong enough to stop the abuse. The girl said she loved her mother and did not want her to go to prison.

Prosecutor Eren Price addressed the girl’s concern in her closing argument, asking the jury to sentence Santiago to life in prison.

“One day (the girl) will understand,” Price said, adding that she wanted the jury to let Santiago know that she was the “worst of the worst.”

The defendant apparently thought her guilty plea Friday would end the proceedings and was confused after testimony continued before the jury for purposes of sentencing.

“I think this is unnecessary since I already pleaded myself guilty,” Santiago told the judge. “I want it over with. This is pointless.”

Instead, prosecutors called to the stand the doctors who treated Santiago’s children last summer.

Dr. Susan Scott, an emergency room physician, said the girl “looked like a skeleton with skin.” A photograph pinned to the courtroom wall showed the girl’s bare back, her ribs and spine clearly defined.

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