Posted at: 09/30/2013 9:21 PM
| Updated at: 09/30/2013 9:27 PM
By: Steve Flamisch
SCHENECTADY -- After two weeks of witness testimony and more than three hours of closing arguments Monday, the fate of a city woman accused of fatally beating her young grandson over stolen chewing gum now rests with a judge.
Gloria Nelligan, 43, is charged with second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in the February 23 death of Sha'hiim Nelligan, 8. The defense opted for a bench trial instead of a jury trial, so Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago will render the verdict.
"This whole case started with a case of good parenting," Mark Caruso, Nelligan's public defender, said in his closing argument. He said Nelligan gave Sha'hiim a "whack on the backside" after learning the boy had stolen a pack of gum from a dollar store.
Caruso -- who asked the judge to interpret the term "beating" as "discipline" -- acknowledged that Nelligan struck the boy several times, but he said the young grandmother never intended to injure or kill the child.
He referred to witness testimony suggesting that Sha'hiim had tried hurting himself in the weeks leading up to his death, and he claimed the boy had struck his head in the bathtub.
Caruso argued that Nelligan's attempt to perform CPR on her grandson -- and the testimony of a first responder who said Nelligan was "inconsolable" -- prove that she did not show the "depraved indifference to human life" necessary for a second-degree murder conviction.
"This is not about punishment to Gloria or sympathy for Sha'hiim," Caruso said. "It's about facts, and the facts do not show depraved murder or manslaughter."
He asked the judge to also consider the lesser included charge of criminally negligent homicide, which she agreed to do.
In his one-hour-long closing argument, Caruso also questioned the medical examiner's autopsy -- "How about doing a better job on this one?" -- and he called into question the interrogation tactics of police investigators.
PROSECUTION: "A TORTURE CHAMBER"
Assistant District Attorney Christina Tremante opened her closing argument with a blunt assessment of Nelligan's actions: "It was torture."
Tremante argued that Nelligan used a jump rope to tie her grandson to a chair, stuffed a sock in his mouth, and repeatedly beat him over the course of 12 hours. She referred to witness testimony alleging that Nelligan told her daughters to ignore Sha'hiim's pleas for help.
"We know he slipped," Tremante said, referring to Caruso's claim that the boy fell in the tub. "He slipped because he couldn't stand up any longer."
Addressing Caruso's argument -- that Nelligan's attempt to revive her grandson shows she was not depraved -- Tremante alleged that Nelligan didn't want the boy to die because she feared the repercussions.
"She didn't care about his survival," Tremante said. "She cared about her own."
In her more than two-hour-long closing argument, Tremante revisited earlier exhibits including autopsy photographs of the boy's badly bruised body, the frantic 911 call from Sha'hiim's aunts, and the surveillance video showing Nelligan forcefully grabbing the boy's head at the dollar store.
Countering Caruso's criticism of the doctors who could not pinpoint all of Sha'hiim's wounds, she said, "The defendant shouldn't be credited for hurting (Sha'hiim) so badly that the doctors couldn't distinguish one blow from the next."
The court stands in recess until 11:00 a.m. Tuesday. Judge Drago told the attorneys she will announce the verdict if she has reached it.
Nelligan -- who elected not to testify in her own defense -- faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of the top count.