Mother gets life term in Texas starvation case

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By JEFF CARLTON
(AP)

1 hour ago
DALLAS — A mother whose three children were found starving after being shut away in a hotel bathroom for as long as nine months has been sentenced to life in prison.
The Dallas jury determined the sentence Friday. It came hours after 31-year-old Abneris Santiago changed her plea to guilty on the third day of testimony. She had faced a minimum of 5 years to a maximum of life in prison.
Police rescued the children from a bathroom in an extended-stay hotel along one of Dallas' busiest freeways in July 2009. The children were near death from chronic starvation. Authorities say the oldest child, a girl, was repeatedly sexually assaulted by her mother's boyfriend.
Alfred Santiago was convicted Tuesday and sentenced to two concurrent 99-year sentences.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
DALLAS (AP) — A mother whose three children were found starving after being shut away in a hotel bathroom for as long as nine months changed her plea to guilty Friday, bringing her trial to a sudden end.
Abneris Santiago's plea on the third day of testimony comes one day after she apologized to her 12-year-old daughter in a tearful courtroom reunion, saying she wasn't strong enough to stop the abuse.
Santiago faces between 5 years and 99 years in prison. The sentencing phase began immediately, which seemed to confuse the defendant.
"I think this is unnecessary since I already pleaded myself guilty," Santiago told the judge. "I want it over with. This is pointless."
Instead, testimony continued Friday as prosecutors called to the stand the doctors who treated Santiago's children last summer. Police rescued Santiago's daughter and 10- and 5-year-old sons from a bathroom in an extended-stay hotel along one of Dallas' busiest freeways in July 2009.
The emaciated children, whose skeletal structures were visible beneath their flaky, stretched skin, were near death from chronic starvation. Authorities say the girl was repeatedly sexually assaulted by her mother's boyfriend.
Alfred Santiago was convicted Tuesday of injury to a child and continuous sexual abuse. He was sentenced to two 99-year sentences, to be served concurrently.
The former couple share a last name but never were married.
Dr. Susan Scott, who treated the children in the emergency room, said the girl "looked like a skeleton with skin." A photograph pinned to the courtroom wall above the doctor's right shoulder showed the girl's bare back, her ribs and spine clearly defined.
"She was very sweet, very conversant, very polite and very concerned about her brothers," Scott said.
The 10-year-old boy appeared angry and withdrawn. He and his 5-year-old brother were so skinny that every bone stuck out, the doctor said.
"Anyone with a brain, much less a heart, would know these kids needed help," Scott said.
A Dallas police detective testified Friday that the 385 square-foot, one-bedroom apartment appeared relatively tidy, with the cupboards stocked with crackers, peanut butter, bread and barbecue sauce. The fridge had leftover chicken and rice.
The bathroom, however, had a stench of feces and body odor. There were blankets on the floor next to the toilet, Detective Parker Baum said.
The children were rescued only after Abneris Santiago's brother made a 1,200 mile drive from his home in Ohio, thinking he was going to rescue his sister from an abusive relationship. What he found at the hotel where the family lived in room B2019 was horrifying, Abner Santiago testified earlier in the week.
His niece and nephews were so emaciated and sick that one immediately threw up the food their uncle gave him. They appeared to be nothing but skin and bones, the uncle said, with his niece having to hold up her pants to keep them from falling. Their clothes were ragged and their hair was falling out.
A doctor testified in the earlier trial that the 10-year-old suffered brain atrophy from chronic starvation and that both brothers were terrified to use the bathroom once they were taken to the hospital. The oldest boy has been hospitalized three times since his rescue because he is suicidal.
The youngest boy weighed less than 30 pounds when rescued, or about the weight of a healthy 2-year-old.
A fourth child, who is 2, was found healthy and unharmed last summer. She was the biological daughter of Abneris and Alfred.
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