Halle Smith: 8-Year-Old Starved to Death Weighing 15 Pounds, Mother Could Face Life in Prison

(Harris County Sheriff)
HOUSTON (CBS) 8-year-old Halle Smith weighed just 15 pounds and was unresponsive when her mother brought her to a Houston area emergency room in January, 2009 claiming that Halle was fine just the day before.

Photo: Almita Nicole Lockhart.

A coroner's report out this week classified Halle's death as a homicide, saying the girl died of severe malnutrition and dehydration, something that doesn't happen overnight.

The mother, 34-year-old Almita Nicole Lockhart, was arrested Tuesday and charged with felony 1st-degree injury to a child, which carries a possible sentence ranging from 5 years to life in prison.

Photo: The Houston area apartment where Halle Smith was allegedly held by her mother and starved to death.

Donna Hawkins with the Harris County District Attorney said it took nearly a year to bring charges because Halle was a special needs child who required a feeding tube and round-the-clock care.

"The officers had to get an autopsy report, complete sets of medical records, and then conduct a thorough investigation to determine if this was, in fact, a deliberate injury," Hawkins told CBS affiliate KHOU.

Photo: The Houston area apartment where Halle Smith was allegedly held by her mother and starved to death.

Court documents show Halle was provided with 24-hour nursing care when she was 20 months old, but Halle's father -- who is not charged -- said he and Lockhart discontinued it because they tired of medical personnel coming in and out.

Investigators discovered that Lockhart had isolated Halle in an empty filthy apartment in North Houston, but aren't sure how long she was kept there.

Estella Olguin, spokeswoman for Child Protective Services said the apartment was unfurnished and dirty with piles of clothes on the ground and a few bottles of formula, apparently intended for Halle.

CPS records show that they visited Lockhart in 2006, after she was arrested and served time for a drug charge, but said that the living conditions appeared healthy and normal.

But something went terribly wrong in the past two and a half years.

Olguin said that Lockhart had nine other children, ranging in age from 2 to 18, and that none of them lived with her. CPS has taken custody of the children and is in the process of terminating her parental rights.