SKOWHEGAN, Maine — The youngest person to be charged with homicide in Maine in at least 30 years – and possibly ever – twiddled her fingers, bit her nails and looked down on Monday during her first court appearance. Afterward, her attorney said the manslaughter charge was "too harsh" for someone so young.
The girl was charged over the summer at age 10 with juvenile manslaughter in the death of 3-month-old Brooklyn Foss-Greenaway, who was staying overnight in the girl's home in Fairfield in the care of the girl's mother.
The girl, now 11, entered a juvenile plea called "no answer," which is neither a denial nor admission of the charges.
The girl's mother called police early on July 8 to report that the infant was not breathing, authorities said. The infant, who was reportedly fussy, was sleeping in a portable crib in the 10-year-old's bedroom that night, said the infant's mother, Nicole "Nicki" Greenaway of Clinton.
The state hasn't released the cause of death, but Greenaway was told that her daughter ingested medication and was suffocated.
Outside the courthouse, defense lawyer John Martin said manslaughter was an "extremely severe" charge for someone who's so young. "When I say too harsh, I mean she's just 11," Martin said. "It's harsh. There's no other word for it."
But Greenaway said the mother should be held accountable, as well, since she left her daughter in the bedroom, leaving her infant without adult supervision.
"I feel that she does need to be charged. To me right now it makes me feel like she's allowing (her daughter) to take full responsibility," Greenaway said.
Greenaway left the court hearing angry and frustrated, saying she felt that the girl and her mother were smirking. The girl's mother left without talking to reporters.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson declined to comment on whether there could be additional charges.
The girl, who had her hair pulled back and wore glasses, sat quietly with her eyes down for most of the brief hearing. When the judge asked if she understood what was required of her, including cooperating on a competency examination, she simply nodded.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services, which removed the young suspect from the home, faulted the baby sitter for leaving the infant in the room with the girl. In a letter, an agency case worker said the 10-year-old had a behavior disorder that made her unsuitable for caring for the infant.
The Associated Press generally does not identify juveniles accused of crimes.
If convicted as a juvenile, the maximum penalty is incarceration until age 21. For an adult, manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, but the state opted not to try the girl in an adult courtroom.
To protect the girl's privacy, Maine District Court Chief Judge Charles LaVerdiere issued a special order warning that no recording device of any type was allowed in the courtroom Monday. Afterward, an umbrella was used to shield her from photographers as she left the courthouse.
During the hearing, LaVerdiere ordered a competency evaluation that'll help establish the path for the case. "Procedurally that's going to kind of guide the way this case goes," Martin said afterward. "That first determination is something that's going to be important in this case."
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