EAST MAITLAND, Australia – The parents of an autistic 7-year-old girl who weighed barely 20 pounds were convicted Tuesday of starving their daughter to death.
A New South Wales Supreme Court jury found the 35-year-old mother guilty of murder and convicted her husband, 48, of manslaughter in the child's November 2007 death.
The couple, who cannot be named for legal reasons meant to protect the identity of their other children, pleaded not guilty to murdering their daughter.
The prosecution said the girl died as a result of long-lasting starvation and neglect. Several doctors testified she suffered the most severe case of malnutrition they had ever seen.
The prosecution told the jury during the five-week trial that the girl went from being a "chubby" 44 pounds as a 6-year-old to "a bag of bones." Her mother claimed not to have noticed the child's weight had dropped.
The mother said her daughter lost interest in food after the family moved to a new home in August 2007.
She told the court the girl was only awake for four hours a day in her final weeks, but that she had eaten a big meal the night before she died, which she then vomited up, before going to bed.
However, doctors testified that the girl did not have enough muscle to eat, walk or sit and that she was most likely comatose for days before her death.
The jury heard that the girl had the bone development of a 5-year-old, and one expert said the child's head resembled a skull wrapped in skin.
Police were alerted to the case when her father called the emergency line to report her death.
The child's father blamed his wife, saying she was solely responsible for the girl's care. He told the jury he saw his daughter only twice in the two months after the family moved.
During the trial, the mother told the jury that the idea that her daughter could die "never entered my head." Her lawyer, Dennis Stewart, described his client as a prescription drug addict who could not cope with some day-to-day matters.
The parents displayed no emotion as they were convicted and remanded to custody.
The mother's sentencing hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, while the father's lawyer asked for six weeks to allow for psychiatric reports to be prepared.
The couple's three other daughters remain in protective custody. There were no details on their condition when they were taken from their parents.