At sentencing in Pa. girl's starvation death, judge compares case to 'banality of evil'

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The morals of social workers who routinely skipped home visits to Philadelphia's most troubled families, leading to a disabled girl's starvation death, reminded a federal judge Friday of the "banality of evil" seen in Europe during the Holocaust.

U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell sentenced the family's case worker and another employee of a social-services contractor to 11 years each for fraud and obstruction.

Witnesses this week called the pair and their seven convicted co-defendants — who include a former missionary nun and doctoral-level social worker — good people for whom the charges are anomalies.

The comments reminded Dalzell of Nazi Party members who were kind to neighbors and dogs.

"'The banality of evil.' Isn't that what's going on here?" Dalzell asked, citing a phrase coined by political theorist Hannah Arendt. Arendt, a German Jew, argued that the great evils in human history are committed not by psychopaths, but by ordinary people who accept the status quo.

Dalzell presided over a harrowing five-week trial this year that laboriously detailed the slow, painful demise of 14-year-old Danieal Kelly. She had cerebral palsy but had once thrived in the care of her father and his attentive girlfriend in Phoenix. A photograph from that era taken on a class trip shows a bright-eyed girl in pigtails grinning broadly for the camera.

But when his relationship failed, Daniel Kelly left Danieal with her unfit mother in Philadelphia, who was raising eight children in a squalid two-bedroom home.

By the time Danieal died in August 2006, starved and dehydrated, she weighed 42 pounds and had maggots crawling in her deep bedsores. She had not been to school or seen a doctor in the previous 10 months, despite being on the city's radar.

The city was paying a startup firm called MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc. $1 million a year to focus on its neediest social-work cases.

But the politically connected firm — led by experienced, Ph.D.-level social worker Michal Kamuvaka — frequently skipped home visits, assigned student interns to the Kellys and other complex cases, and furiously forged documents to try to cover their tracks after Danieal died.

"'Dr. K' had a dozen people who just think she's a saint. But we know just the contrary. We heard it over five weeks," Dalzell said Friday. A day earlier, he had sentenced the 61-year-old Kamuvaka to 17 1/2 years in prison, despite pleas from friends and proteges.

Case worker Julius Juma Murray, 52, of Upper Darby, was supposed to be the final safety net for the long list of people who failed Danieal. But Murray — hired despite his lack of social work training — skipped visits as Danieal wasted away.

Andrea Kelly is serving 10 to 20 years for third-degree murder, and Daniel Kelly is charged with endangerment for allegedly abandoning her.

In all, nine MultiEthnic workers were convicted in the case, including case worker Mariam Coulibaly, sentenced Friday to 135 months. Coulibaly, 41, a mother of three from Brookhaven, had no role in Danieal's death but helped forge documents, lied to the FBI and hid $50,000 after the verdict to shield it from the court-ordered restitution.

(This version CORRECTS the date of the Coulibaly sentencing in the last paragraph to Thursday, instead of Friday.)