A Philadelphia judge upheld murder charges against the parents of Nathalyz Rivera, who starved to death at age 3 in September in West Oak Lane, and ordered the case forward to trial after a preliminary hearing today.
Judge James DeLeon heard extensive new details from the district attorney's office regarding Nathalyz's death during the hearing.
Among them were the fact that mother Carmen Ramirez, 27, was receiving $2,130 a month in SSI benefits for three of her children, but had not been home in two months at the time of Nathalyz’s death, according to statements Rivera made to police. She had removed her school-age children from Clara Barton Elementary School a year before Nathalyz died.
Father Carlos Rivera, 30, who lived with Ramirez' five children in a garbage-filled house, told police that he fed the children pizza and baby food, and changed Nathalyz’s diaper twice a day, but stopped for the week before she died because he ran out of diapers, according to testimony at the hearing.
Photographs of Nathalyz’ nude emaciated corpse with thin hair and multiple bedsores were shown at the hearing.
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Ramirez wept quietly as photographs of her daughter’s corpse were shown, continuing to shake for half an hour afterwards, while Rivera stared down at the table.
Rivera and Ramirez were both arrested on Sept. 9 after Ramirez brought Nathalyz’s body to Albert Einstein Medical Center, where the girl was pronounced dead.
Nathalyz, who had cerebral palsy and could not pick up objects or walk, and was partly blind and deaf, was last seen by a doctor at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in April 2011.
At the time of her death, Nathalyz Rivera was 3 years, 10 months old, approximately 2’8” tall, and weighed 11 pounds, according to Dr. Aaron Rosen of the medical examiner’s office.
Rosen testified that he found that Nathalyz showed many signs of starvation and dehydration, including diminished musculature and subcutaneous tissue. Her kidneys weighed about 20 grams each, less than half of what would be expected of a normal child of her age.
Rosen ruled the death a homicide by starvation.
On cross-examination, Dr. Rosen was asked by Rivera’s attorney, Bobby Hoof, if these signs may have been caused by Nathalyz’ disabilities.
“Whether a 3-years, 10-month old child is with disabilities or with no disabilities, if you don’t feed them, they die,” Rosen said.
Prosecutor Gwenn Cujdik also introduced 46 photographs and a five-minute video depicting conditions inside the home at 7311 Sommers Road in West Oak Lane where Nathalyz died.
The home was filled with piles of garbage, including a soiled mattress, a filthy couch propped against a wall, a street garbage bin lying on the floor, and discarded baby carriages and bicycles around the house. The refrigerator only had garbage in it.
In Rivera's statement to police, he said he fed Nathalyz by putting baby food in a bottle and leaving it on a pillow next to her head, "so she could suck on it."
He also told police that he earned $20-$30 a day working in the parking lot of Autozone at Mascher and Duncannon streets, offering car repair and cleaning services to customers, and had left at 11 a.m. on the day Nathalyz died to go earn money. When he came back at 9 p.m., one of Nathalyz' siblings told him she had stopped breathing, and he called Ramirez, according to testimony at the hearing.
Ramirez told police that on the day Nathalyz died, she woke up at 2 p.m. in a friend’s basement and spent all day with her friend at Parx Casino before receiving the call around 9 p.m. from Rivera that Nathalyz had stopped breathing.
Ramirez claimed in her statement that when she saw Nathalyz, “she looked completely different” than when last seen by her mother.
Hoof, Rivera's attorney, was unsuccessful in seeking to have his clients' charges reduced in severity at the hearing, he said.
"He was there. He was the one that did not abandon the children. There was testimony that he brought food home every night. He made sure that all the children were fed," Hoof said. "He may have been a little negligent, but there was no intent to kill."
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