Breaking: Nixzmary Brown’s Stepfather Convicted of Manslaughter

Cesar Rodriguez — stepfather of Nixzmary Brown, the 7-year-old girl who was subject to persistent physical abuse that eventually killed her — was convicted of manslaughter.

A jury in Brooklyn acquitted Cesar Rodriguez, the stepfather of 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown, of second-degree murder Tuesday, but convicted him of a lesser charge, first-degree manslaughter, for fatally beating her as punishment for stealing a snack and jamming his computer printer with toys.

The lower charge carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison; second-degree murder carries a possible life sentence.

The verdict, reached on the fourth day of deliberations after an eight-week trial, brought an ambiguous end to the first trial in one of the most horrific child deaths in the city’s recent history, one that triggered an overhaul of the city’s child welfare system. Nixzmary’s mother, Nixzaliz Santiago, is to be tried later on murder charges.

The difference between second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter is subtle. In convicting Mr. Rodriguez, 29, of first-degree manslaughter, the jury determined that Mr. Rodriguez had caused Nixzmary’s death by recklessly engaging in conduct that created a grave risk of serious physical injury. To find him guilty of second-degree murder, the jury would have had to determine that he acted with “depraved indifference to human life.”

During the eight-week trial, Mr. Rodriguez’s main lawyer, Jeffrey T. Schwartz, told jurors that though Mr. Rodriguez, who admitted beating Nixzmary regularly, was a child abuser, he was not a killer and that he never thought any of his beatings would cause Nixzmary’s death.

How, exactly, the jury felt that the man who beat his stepdaughter to death — after keeping her tied to chairs, forcing her to urinate in a litter box and feeding her so little that she weighed about as much as your average 4-year-old — did not, without a reasonable doubt, have a “depraved indifference to human life,” I do not know. But apparently, they did.

I have written about this case, and particularly the trial, with disgust. This has been over both the murder of a 7-year-old girl and the defense attorney who defended him by claiming that Nixzmary was a troublemaker who just had to be tied to chairs, and wasn’t actually at an unsafe weight. The guy has been defended by others who think that he is just doing his job, and hey, might have even been using a repulsive defense in order to increase the chances of conviction while not appearing as though he had failed to vigorously defend his client. But interestingly enough, he has repeatedly called for a mistrial, accused the prosecution of “cheating” (with no explanation that I found) and is now promising to appeal the decision instead of convincing his client of the absolute truth, which is that he got a better deal than he deserved and anyone could have reasonably expected.

In the end, I don’t really think that 25 years (assuming that he gets a maximum sentence) is enough.  But I am glad to see that this guy’s ass will be going to prison.  No one should be allowed to treat anyone this way, particularly a child, and get away with it.

What do you think about the verdict?

0 thoughts on “Breaking: Nixzmary Brown’s Stepfather Convicted of Manslaughter

  1. akeeyu

    So, he starved her, tried to drown her and beat her to death, but he didn’t think it would actually WORK, so it’s okay? What the fuck? How is that NOT depraved indifference to human life?

    I hope he only manages to serve seven years of his sentence, because I hope his fellow inmates spend seven years stealing his food and beating him before accidentally hitting him a little too hard. THAT would be justice.

    Reply
  2. Thealogian

    Yeah, this kind of verdict reminds me why people like superheroes and images of the vigilante.

    I know that the vast majority of Americans are programmed from birth to respect violence against children (and women) as right and proper, but don’t instances like this show that violence is always coming from a place of dominance and subjugation? I was never spanked as a child and I turned out pretty well–okay, maybe I have a few too many graduate degrees. My parents respected their children as human beings deserving of respect and autonomy over our bodies. Thank Goddess.

    Spanking begets beatings which begets violence, subjugation, and as in this case, death. It comes from a bad paradigm of the father as violent enforcer of the rules–and whether enacted by mother or father, it is fundamentally about heirarchy and the patriarchy. Families can be founded upon more than violence and dominance. Mine is.

    I think that just like, “she wore a short skirt, she wanted to be raped” is very much in line with “I have the right to punish my child as I see fit (even if that means beating/starving her because I own her…the unsaid, but understood part of that sentence).” Those sentiments come from a place that wants beyond all else to see the customs and traditions of patriarchy succeed over the individual human rights of women and children because to live in a world in which there isn’t a clear Zeus heirarchy calls into question those patriachy-worshipping zealots most basic beliefs (like, God the Father and Jesus the Son, and how “accepting Christ” is an instant ticket to Heaven and bad things only happen to bad people).

    So, in the face of all the evidence, people will still vote for oppression, of themselves and others, because its tradition.

    Reply
  3. konstanze

    Thealogian–i think you’re totally right. It also doesn’t help that our society has accepted torture as an ethical exertion of control. I hate to say it, but maybe our standard for “depraved indifference to human life” has lowered a bit.

    Reply
  4. eruvande

    I’ve noticed lately that more and more–and I’ve done this too–people have been saying “I just hope he gets at least some jail time, because the inmates will take care of him.” I saw it again just today in reference to a sick fuck who raped a 5-month-old baby girl. (Yeah. FIVE MONTHS OLD.) And I was thinking: how sad is our justice system when we have to depend on the people it has put away to dole out the justice?

    Not that I advocate the killing of anyone, etc etc.

    Reply
  5. GallingGalla aka RachelPhilPa

    (1) Yeah, Rodriguez should have been convicted of the higher charge; furthermore, the depth to which he sunk in his depraved indifference to life should have resulted in life without hope of parole.

    (2) I second what Theologian said.

    (3) I think that the only solution is to replace the nuclear family, which is built on the patriarchal concept of ownership of women and children by men, with community / clan / tribe / modern equivalent responsibility to care for children without owning them.

    I’d be curious to know what the rates of child abuse were like prior to WWII, when it was much more common (at least in cities) for members of an extended family to live within a short distance of each other, so that you had aunts and uncles and cousins, etc, participating in the raising of children.

    Reply
  6. ouyangdan

    “so that you had aunts and uncles and cousins, etc, participating in the raising of children.”

    that is exactly how i was raised, just off of the reservation. my grandparents (on both sides), aunts, uncles, everyone was walking distance, and they all helped raise all of us. lots of nurture.

    and i think i turned out OK.

    and i don’t know if it makes me a bad person for saying this, but according to my mother, a retired prison guard, inmates have a special place in their hearts for people who hurt children…and it’s not a nice place…

    thanks for the update, Cara!

    Reply
  7. Feminist Avatar

    The problem is that inflicting people to torture (whether by the govt or by other inmates) as punishment just reinforces the system which allows violence against women and children. When violence is institutionalised by the state, it is usually a fair reflection of practice in society.

    Also, historically, there is no evidence that living in or amongst an extended family reduced levels of violence within the family. Studies of family violence over time have showed remarkable similarity in rates and types of violence. Domestic homicide rates have been stable in Western Europe for over 200 years. Within patriarchal society, violence, justified as a method of discipline, has always been acceptable. And despite rumours about a ‘rule of thumb’, as it is impossible to define what is and is not acceptable as a level of violence, this has granted abusers the ability to use discipline as an excuse for any and all extremes of violence. This meant that wider family members were reluctant to interfere in ‘discipline’ as they were interfering in the good operation of the household. Court records suggest that wider family and neighbour (etc) only interfered in cases of violence when the victim was at risk of dying.

    This is not to say that extended families are not a good way to raise children as I am sure there are lots of benefits, but a reduction in violence has not historically been one. Whether that would change in contemporary society given changing notions about violence might be another question- although I wonder whether a parent’s ‘right’ to ‘smack’ may cover a variety of sins.

    Reply
  8. Paul

    A recent survey commissioned by one of the child protection groups discovered that 49% of people surveyed said they would not believe a child if they said they were being abused and more than half of those that would believe it would remain skeptical even so.

    Reply
  9. Roy

    He’s going for appeal? For reals?
    That’s… wow. That’s both dumb, and glorious. I hope he gets his appeal, and they convict him of the higher charge.

    Reply
  10. konstanze

    A recent survey commissioned by one of the child protection groups discovered that 49% of people surveyed said they would not believe a child if they said they were being abused and more than half of those that would believe it would remain skeptical even so.

    What? Why not? Are people just that cynical?

    Reply
  11. Feminist Avatar

    Konstanze: I think it is because when people are in a position of power over another social group (as all adults are over all children in our culture) they have a sense of unease about its legitimacy. This unease translates into a fear about the fact that their power could be questioned, and thus they could be accused of a crime, and so they choose not to believe the whole oppressed class to protect themselves.

    Reply
  12. Jen

    I showed this article to the attorney I’m interning with. She was appalled. She claims that her firm has dealt with over two hundred or so rape and child abuse crimes, around fifty or so of which she came into contact with the victim to prepare them for cross-examination. Of all those people, she said that the firm only knows of one women or child that was lying about or exaggerating their abuse… even though the courts only convicted around 15% of the abusers that were tried.

    My question is, what kind of sick world do we live in where the first response to someone calling rape or abuse is that they are lying? How can we possibly justify further victimizing the victims of these sick crimes, when statistically, it’s highly unlikely that they have done anything wrong?

    Reply
  13. sara

    We live in a lovely world of scumbag lawyers who will do anything including lying and making up preposterous BS to get their client off.

    This defense attorney is a newcomer nobody who is trying to bust his nut on a big case and get famous. Thats why he’s appealing and why he’s using these ridiculous arguments that that the little girl deserved what she got.

    I’m so sick of fucking lawyers hiding behind this “its glorious to defend a scumbag because we’re all about seeking justice.” Thats crap. Lawyers care nothin about justice, only about WINNING THE CASE.

    New York has very liberal policies for parole as well as time off for good behavior too. You are fooling yourself if you think this asshole is really going to serve 25 years. I bet he’ll be out in 15. Even if he doesnt get parole, he’s eligible to get up to HALF HIS FUCKING SENTENCE SHAVED OFF FOR “GOOD BEHAVIOR”

    Its time for a federal truth in sentencing act in which the only way criminals get cut short their sentence is by parole dates SET AT THE TIME OF SENTENCING AND NOT LATER. I’m sick of victims families being notified that the punk who murdered their daughter was originally sentenced to 40 years, but got out in 20 because he was secretly accruing “good behavior bonus time off.” The prison doesnt even notify the victims what is going on and they usually hear about it in the paper. totally outrageous.

    Reply
  14. keshmeshi

    how sad is our justice system when we have to depend on the people it has put away to dole out the justice?

    I actually think it’s kind of funny, not the existence of in-prison abuse per se, but just the fact that criminals have taken up the mantle of giving abusers and murderers of children their just desserts.

    I’m so sick of fucking lawyers hiding behind this “its glorious to defend a scumbag because we’re all about seeking justice.” Thats crap. Lawyers care nothin about justice, only about WINNING THE CASE.

    I hate to break it to you, sara, but that’s how the system works and how it’s meant to work. The real issue is why do jurors reward attorneys for that behavior.

    Parole is also essentially the only way to exert some control over the prison population. If criminals know that they have no chance of getting out early for behaving themselves on the inside, then they won’t behave and our prisons will be even more anarchic than they already are.

    Reply
  15. sara

    Parole is also essentially the only way to exert some control over the prison population. If criminals know that they have no chance of getting out early for behaving themselves on the inside, then they won’t behave and our prisons will be even more anarchic than they already are.

    Dont get me wrong. I’m not saying parole should be abolished. I’m talking about getting out early due to good behavior thats not because of parole. Many states have statutes that prisoners get time shaved off their sentence for good behavior. They get out early WITHOUT ANY PAROLE HEARING, WITHOUT ANY NOTICE TO THE VICTIM’S FAMILIES.

    Thats what I’m most pissed about. At least with a parole hearing its public information and victims can go to the parole board and let their voices be heard. But this behind the scenes “time off for good behavior” bullshit is entirely secret and its not accounted for when juries decide sentences. Juries should be aware of what the “time shaving” rules are so they can take that into account.

    As for me personally, I believe that violent offenders should NEVER get parole and serve their full sentences. If we need to let all the drug users and drug dealers out of prison to make room for holding the violent offenders longer, then so be it.

    When a jury sentences somebody to 50 years in prison, they need to be aware that he has a chance at parole every X years, and that he gets Z years shaved off his term for good behavior. I believe that first degree murder convictions should carry an automatic life with no parole sentence.

    Reply
  16. misskate7511

    “Jurors said afterward that most of them wanted to convict Mr. Rodriguez of second-degree murder but that several holdouts said prosecutors had not proved that Mr. Rodriguez acted with “depraved indifference to human life,” the standard for second-degree murder in this case.”

    So, could someone please tell me, if this man’s conduct was not ‘depraved indifference,’ what in the name of gods IS ‘depraved indifference’? Referring to what Rodriguez did as any form of indifference is an understatement at best.

    I’m sorry if I’ve repeated what others have said. It’s just… well… this blows my mind a bit much. Where did they find the a jury that would ever go so lightly on such a monster? My humanity is reeling.

    And I thought the last two elections tested my faith in our species. Well, shit.

    Reply
  17. ant

    their should have been no trial for this evil man, who had no regard for human life, especially a child. they should have taken it back to ancient times when people were hung or got there heads cut off by the guillotine.

    Reply

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