A 33-year-old caregiver charged with killing a baby girl in Northwest Washington pleaded guilty yesterday to voluntary manslaughter and first-degree child cruelty.
Caroline Deforest admitted in D.C. Superior Court that she beat and kicked Selena McDonald in the three days before the baby died in January. Selena was 12 months old.
Facing profound problems in her own life, Selena's mother had turned the girl over to Deforest a few months after giving birth, and Deforest became the child's primary caregiver, authorities said.
But Deforest was troubled herself, and her Shepherd Street apartment, just off Georgia Avenue in the Petworth area, became a dungeon of neglect and abuse, according to prosecutors.
Reading from his court filing, Assistant U.S. Attorney John P. Carlin catalogued the abuse that Selena endured: She suffered blunt impact trauma to the head, to the neck and to the torso. She had broken ribs and a hemorrhaged liver. She had bite marks on her torso and apparent bite marks on her thighs. And she had an infected rash -- a result of diapers that went unchanged for too long.
As Carlin recounted the injuries, Deforest leaned over and read the prosecutor's court filing along with her attorney, Santha Sonenberg of the D.C. Public Defender Service. A few of Deforest's relatives listened in silence on one side of the courtroom. Investigators from the D.C. police special victims unit watched from the other side of the courtroom.
In the months before Selena died, Deforest would not allow other people to have close contact with the child, Carlin said. She even draped blankets over and around Selena's playpen so visitors could not see her, the prosecutor said.
Witnesses reported seeing the child with injuries in the days or weeks before her death, according to other court papers filed in the case. What investigators uncovered Jan. 12 was the culmination of months of abuse, a law enforcement official said at the time of Deforest's arrest.
But no reports of abuse had been made to police or to child welfare officials, according to those agencies.
Selena ended up in Deforest's care after the girl's mother decided that she was in no position to care for a newborn, according to Mindy L. Good, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency.
"It's tragic," Good said.
Standing before the judge early yesterday afternoon, Deforest appeared alert and aware but said little. Most of the judge's questions were answered with a single word.
After her arrest in January, she was placed on a suicide watch, and yesterday, she told the court that she is taking three prescription drugs, including an antidepressant.
Deforest is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 11 by Judge Robert I. Richter. She faces up to 45 years in prison.