NEWARK, N.J. -- The mother of a young girl found dead from severe malnutrition and an untreated broken leg, and a woman who helped care for the child, both pleaded not guilty Tuesday to murder and a host of other charges related to the alleged abuse of the girl and her surviving siblings.
Attorneys for the child's mother, 30-year-old Venette Ovilde, also known as Krisla Rezireksyon, and her roommate, 24-year-old Myriam Janvier, entered pleas on their behalf in state superior court in Newark. The women are in custody on $500,000 bail each.
Eight-year-old Christiana Glenn was found dead in May 2011 in her family's Irvington apartment. The Essex County prosecutor's office said she had died of severe malnutrition and a fractured femur that had gone untreated. Christiana's injured and emaciated younger siblings were taken from the home alive. Now ages 7 and 8, they have been placed in foster care and are improving, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Prosecutors allege that between Aug. 1, 2010, and May 22, 2011, Rezireksyon and Janvier starved Cristiana and her siblings, regularly restrained the three children by tying them to a radiator, withheld medical treatment for Cristiana's broken leg, one child's broken arm and foot, and the other child's fractured finger, and kept the children out of school and not properly home-schooled. The children were also forced to kneel on salt with heavy objects on their heads for hours at a time, according to the indictment.
At the time of the women's arrests, family and acquaintances recalled how the women, who were both born in Haiti but came to the U.S. at a young age, had seemed like normal neighborhood girls until around 2009, when they radically altered their lifestyles after coming under the sway of a man they described as their religious leader.
The two started dressing in head-to-toe white clothing and headdresses, dressed the children all in white, removed all their furniture and belongings and piled them in a heap on the front sidewalk, and covered the floors and doorways of the apartment with white material, their landlord, William Weathers, recalled at the time of the 2011 arrests. Weathers described how he frequently heard loud chanting or prayers in Creole and French coming from the women's apartment.
The children, once friendly and rambunctious, stopped interacting with family and neighbors and were not attending school, according to acquaintances and investigators. Ovilde legally changed her name to Krisla Rezireksyon Kris and changed the children's last names to Rezireksyon – pronounced `resurrection' – after their leader, authorities said.
In court Tuesday, Rezireksyon, wearing a tan suit with her hair drawn back in a ponytail, was expressionless as her court-appointed attorney entered the plea on her behalf.
Janvier, wearing dark green jail scrubs, also did not speak during the proceeding. Her attorney, Bukie Adetula, said afterward that his client felt she had been wrongfully accused.
"They've chosen to arrest and indict an innocent person here," Adetula said. "My client says they should be looking in a different direction – not at her."
The case lead to a shake-up at the state's child abuse hotline after an investigation revealed that a call concerning the family shortly before Cristiana's death had been mishandled.
New Jersey's Department of Children and Families had also received two calls about the family in 2006 and two more in 2008. There were allegations of neglect and abuse, including that Ovilde beat Christiana for wetting the bed and left all three children unattended.
All four instances were determined to be unfounded and the family's file was closed on May 1, 2008.