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NYC Mom Convicted In Abused Girl's Death

A woman was convicted of manslaughter Friday in the death of her tiny, malnourished 7-year-old daughter, who suffered abuse that shocked New Yorkers and hastened reforms in New York's child welfare agency.

Brooklyn jurors deliberated three days before convicting Nixzaliz Santiago in the January 2006 death of Nixzmary Brown, who was severely punished after she was caught stealing yogurt.

Santiago - like her husband - was acquitted of murder and convicted of manslaughter. Cesar Rodriguez, who delivered the fatal blow, was convicted in March and is serving 29 years in prison.

The trial had raised questions of whether mothers should be held to a higher standard than fathers. Prosecutors argued that the mother had failed to protect her child in shocking fashion, and should be thoroughly punished.

"Today is a good day for the children because this jury said loud and clearly that parents have a duty," prosecutor Ama Dwimoh said. "It's not just what you do - it's what you don't do."

Evidence included grim crime-scene photos from the room where Nixzmary was bound to a chair, starved and forced to urinate in a litter box. Nixzmary was so malnourished when she died that she weighed only 36 pounds - about half the weight of an average girl that age.

Santiago could face up to 33 years in prison - more than her husband - when she is sentenced on Nov. 5. An appeal is planned.

During the trial's closing arguments, Mullin practically screamed at the jury yelling, pacing, coming to within a foot of the them as she claimed her client was innocent, reports CBS station WCBS-TV. Instead, she blamed Nixzmary's death squarely on Rodriguez, the girl's stepfather who had already been found guilty in an earlier trial for manslaughter.

"He took her from that bathroom; and he beat her in that back bedroom, away from Mrs. Santiago. She never knew, or never understood what happened to her daughter," Mullin said.

But prosecutors painted a different picture, billing Santiago as a mother who provoked her husband to abuse her 7-year-old daughter and did nothing to help as the battered, naked girl lay dying on their apartment floor.

"If the mother doesn't protect their child, who does?" countered Dwimoh. "This is a woman who is obsessed with her man, who chooses her man over her daughter."

There had long been warning signs of problems. School employees had reported that she had been absent for weeks the previous year. Neighbors noticed unexplained injuries and noted that the child appeared underfed. Child welfare workers had been alerted twice but said they found no conclusive evidence of abuse.