NY Stepdad Gets 29 Years in Girl's Death


NEW YORK (AP) -- Spectators in the courtroom shouted "murderer!" and "I hope you die in jail." But Cesar Rodriguez continued to insist he was innocent in the shocking death of his 7-year-old stepdaughter even as he was sentenced Thursday to up to 29 years in prison.

The scrawny and battered girl, Nixzmary Brown, was bound to a chair, starved and forced to urinate in a litter box before she was killed with a fatal blow to the head.

In a short statement, Rodriguez told the judge: "I loved Nixzmary. I can honestly say that I'm being accused of something I didn't do."

The judge handed down the sentence after a prosecutor said the 29-year-old Rodriguez was "devoid of all morality" and that he never expressed a bit of remorse for the death.

Rodriguez' lawyer, Jeffrey Schwartz, blamed Nixzmary's mother for the death, echoing the defense he used at the trial earlier this year. The mother is expected to face a separate murder trial later this year.

Schwartz said his client had been unjustly portrayed as a monster and was in fact an "angel" who tried to do the right thing when it came to his family.

"He didn't do it," Schwartz said. "He took the blame for so much more than he actually did."

The defense said it would appeal.

The case shocked the city and led to a series of reforms at its child welfare agency after it emerged that caseworkers had overlooked signs of abuse.

The girl was so malnourished before she died that she weighed only 36 pounds - about half the weight of an average girl that age - and had gained only 1 pound in the previous two and a half years.

Rodriguez dodged a murder conviction at his trial last month but was convicted of the lesser manslaughter count. He received the maximum 25 years on manslaughter and four more years for additional lesser counts.

Prosecutor Ama Dwimoh asked Brooklyn state Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Hall to impose the maximum sentence on Rodriguez, who sat stone-faced and motionless throughout the hearing.

She recounted Rodriguez's troubled criminal past, saying, "There is no end to Cesar Rodriguez's violent ways."

Dwimoh said Rodriguez wasn't entitled to any mercy or compassion from the court. He didn't show Nixzmary any, Dwimoh said, saying the stepfather had ignored the child's last pleas before her death in January 2006.

Prosecutors said Rodriguez killed the hungry Nixzmary after she stole some yogurt.

Before Rodriguez was sentenced, Schwartz asked that the verdict be set aside. He accused the prosecution of withholding evidence and playing games.

Prosecutor Monique Ferrell shot back that Schwartz's claims were not substantiated by anything other than "dramatic" oratory.

"The trial was manifestly fair," she said.

The judge denied Schwartz' request.

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