Texas mom in starving case changes plea to guilty
DALLAS (AP) -- A mother whose three children were found starving after being shut away in a Dallas 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 her trial 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.
Sentencing is expected to happen later Friday. She faces up to life in prison on one charge of injury to a child.
Police last summer rescued the then 11-year-old girl and her two younger half brothers from a bathroom in an extended-stay hotel along one of Dallas' busiest freeways.
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 prison terms, to be served concurrently.
The former couple share a last name but never were married.
The children were rescued last summer only after Abneris Santiago's brother made the 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 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 one of the boys suffered brain atrophy from chronic starvation and that both brothers were terrified to use the bathroom once they were taken to a hospital. The oldest boy has been hospitalized three times since his rescue because he is suicidal.
The youngest boy, who was 5 1/2 when rescued, weighed less than 30 pounds, or about the weight of a healthy 2-year-old.
A 2-year-old child, the biological daughter of Abneris and Alfred, was found in the hotel room healthy and unharmed.