PHILADELPHIA – A jury convicted a mother of six of involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday in the starvation death of her infant at a Philadelphia homeless shelter.
The jury also convicted 34-year-old Tanya Williams of the aggravated assault of the infant's surviving twin, who was found near death, and of child endangerment. It found Williams not guilty of first-degree murder but deadlocked on third-degree murder and the attempted murder of the twin.
Williams had shown no emotion when they found her emaciated, lifeless son alone on a bed, wearing only a diaper, two days before Christmas 2010, according to testimony. Quasir Alexander was 2 months old and weighed just over 4 pounds, a half-pound less than his birth weight.
Defense lawyer Gregory Pagano called his client, who has a low-IQ, "a scapegoat" for the failings of social workers, doctors and others and said the jury found that she had "no intent" to harm her son.
A city-funded caseworker had seen the 2-month-old boys 36 hours earlier and deemed them healthy. The caseworker also released Williams from a voluntary parenting class.
Her boss at Lutheran Children and Family Service testified that the now-fired caseworker never saw the twins unclothed.
The trial prosecutor said Williams hid the fact she wasn't feeding them from two caseworkers and a visiting nurse. Williams did not testify, so it's unclear if she ever tried to feed them. There was powdered formula found in her room at the Travelers Aid shelter, and she had told a caseworker she had enough "milk" for the twins until January.
The caseworker, Cleo Smalls, invoked her constitutional right not to testify when called by the defense. No one else has been charged in the case.
Executive Director Richard Gitlen said in staff emails afterward that he was ashamed of his agency, Pagano told jurors in opening statements. But the trial judge stopped him from grilling Gitlen about those emails when the agency head testified, apparently ruling that they were not relevant to the charges against Williams.
And Assistant District Attorney Peter Lim told jurors that Williams failed to take advantage of help offered by Smalls, a shelter worker and the visiting nurse.
Williams' case files suggest that she repeatedly made appointments to take her children for vaccines or checkups, or to apply for food stamps or other programs. But she rarely followed through, repeatedly rescheduling the appointments.
The twins were born at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania on Oct. 21 and 22, and released on Oct. 25. She had not had any prenatal visits and did not know she was carrying twins.
Williams had become homeless in September after arguments with her mother over her boyfriend, the father of her four youngest children, who was in and out of jail. A church friend then took her in, but she left after they argued over religion. At that point, the pregnant Williams curled up one night with her children in the lobby of the city's Department of Human Services, in an effort to get help.
The agency deemed her family a low to moderate risk, and steered her to the voluntary parenting program run by Gitlen's agency, which was funded by the city. That decision was apparently based on the fact Williams had done well with her oldest four, according to Gitlen, who was not involved in the decision.
But school records aired in court show the oldest girls had been chronically truant the year before, and one was dressing provocatively and bullying other girls at her new school.
Pagano argued that Williams has an IQ of 65. According to her Lutheran case file, she was excited when she had the twins, at least partly because she thought it would help her get in to public housing.
She has been in jail since she was charged with murder in March 2011. Her five surviving children have been removed from her care.