A 22-year-old Prince William County woman was sentenced to five years in prison Monday for the 2012 killing of a toddler in her care. The family and friends of the murdered child reacted angrily to the sentence, which is far below the 40 to 50 years that prosecutors had asked for.
Jessica Fraraccio pleaded guilty in October to killing 23-month-old Elijah Nealey. Judge J. Howe Brown sentenced Fraraccio to 50 years but suspended 45 and required that she send a check of at least a dollar to a charity of her choosing on the date of Elijah’s death every year after her release.
Brown said that he thought a long sentence would serve neither the Nealey family nor Fraraccio. “Nothing I can do brings back Elijah or makes them feel better,” he said about the boy’s parents. Of Fraraccio, he added, “Likewise, nothing I can do to punish her is more important than her memory of what she did.”
That left him with a sentence that, he admitted, would please nobody: “The sentence that I’m going to give is not going to satisfy probably anybody, and people may talk about it for a long time.”
When Brown read the sentence, several gasps went up from the crowd of at least 30 friends who had packed the courtroom to support the grieving Nealey parents.
“That is an insult,” said Lucy Sineath, Elijah’s grandmother. “It would make me feel a lot better if she had gotten the full extent of the law.”
Mike Nealey, the child’s father, said he was shocked by the sentence. “I don’t know what would be right,” he said. “Not five years. That’s definitely not right.”
During the sentencing, Mike Nealey said: “We missed so many things with him, so many firsts. He missed his birthday, missed Halloween, missed Christmas, missed everything.”
Jennifer Nealey, Elijah’s mother, spoke of her dread of eventually telling her two daughters how their brother died and of explaining to children Elijah’s age why their playmate is gone. “Because of her, my friends’ children are going to have to learn that lesson way before they should have to. They’re going to have to know that there are monsters in this world.”
But defense attorney Sandra Drewniak objected to that characterization of Fraraccio. “This accident was truly an accident. She is not a monster,” she said.
Initially Fraraccio said the boy had slipped in the tub and hit his head, but months later, she told police that wasn’t true.
In the end, Fraraccio told police that she was frustrated because Elijah was crying, prosecutor Teresa Polinske said. Fraraccio pulled a chair out from under him, causing the boy to hit his head on the table and floor.
Elijah cried harder in pain, and Fraraccio carried him around the house upside down, hitting the boy’s head on the metal stair rail and other objects, Polinske said. Fraraccio then covered his mouth and nose with her hand, suffocating him to death.
During the hearing Monday, Fraraccio cried as Jennifer Nealey spoke of the pain of losing her child.
“I just want to tell the Nealeys how sorry I truly am,” Fraraccio said. “I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to forgive myself — I really did love Elijah.”