N.C. Mother Charged in Child's Beating Death

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By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 8, 2005

A North Carolina woman has been charged with killing her 2 1/2 -year-old daughter after she told a detective that she shook, kicked and repeatedly punched the child, Prince William County police said yesterday.

Peggy Sue Hilt, 33, who was visiting relatives near Manassas last weekend, told police that she had become "enraged and angered" at her adopted Russian child, Nina, on July 1 while they were at their home in North Carolina, authorities said.

When the child stopped breathing the next morning at her relatives' home, Hilt called 911 and rescue officials took her to the Prince William Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Police said the cause of death was one or more blows to the child's abdomen, and Hilt was charged Wednesday with second-degree murder.

"Obviously, we are taking this seriously," said J. Regan Wilson, an assistant commonwealth's attorney. "A 2-year-old baby died at the hands of her mother."

Law enforcement officials declined to say why Hilt became infuriated with her daughter and said the investigation is ongoing.

According to the criminal complaint, Hilt told police that "she shook her, dropped her on the floor, kicked her stomach, picked her up, put her in her bed, and continued to strike her with a closed right fist on her back and stomach."

Hilt, who is being held without bond in the Prince William jail, declined a request for an interview. Brenda Myers, a relative who was hosting Hilt and her child at her home near Manassas last weekend, also declined to comment.

After the child's collapse Saturday, emergency workers and the treating physician believed the injuries were "suspicious in nature" and probably were the result of child abuse, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Nina had bruises all over her body -- between her eyebrows, on her chin, on her collarbone, on the left side of her rib cage and on the right forearm.

She also had serious abrasions on a shin bone and blood pooling at the right hip.

During her interviews, police said, Hilt gave conflicting accounts of why her child showed multiple bruises. When she was first interviewed, on the day Nina died, she told a detective that the child was in an accident at their home.

"The mother of the victim stated the child fell down the stairs. . . . The child was not taken for treatment," the affidavit said. "The family then got in their vehicle . . . and drove from North Carolina to . . . Manassas. The mother of the child stated the child threw up two times while they were en route to Virginia."

Four days later, according to the criminal complaint, Hilt said that she erupted into a "state of anger and rage" and detailed how she attacked her daughter.

Catherine Sanders, who formed nonprofit group Shaken Baby Prevention Inc. in Manassas after her son Ryan suffered serious brain injuries when he was shaken, expressed exasperation when she learned the extent of Nina's injuries.

"I don't understand why it still goes on, why people can't control their temper and why they feel they have to put their hands on any child," she said. "They should be prosecuted to the fullest, even if they get on the stand and say they feel remorseful."

Hilt has a court hearing Aug. 2. Police said a second-degree murder conviction carries a prison sentence of five to 40 years.


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