Influence Salubi was at work when he got the call from the nanny telling him that something was wrong.
His 8-month-old daughter had been happy and healthy when he left the house hours earlier, but when he rushed home, she was lifeless. Her feet were cold. Her arms went limp. Milk poured out of her nose and mouth.
“What did you do?! What happened?!” Salubi recalled screaming to the nanny before trying to suck out the liquid streaming from his child’s face.
“You left home with a live baby and come home with a dead baby,” Salubi said in court recalling the day his daughter, Enita, died. “It’s not something I can forget.”
Salubi shook with anger and grief as he testified in the trial of Oluremi Adeleye, who prosecutors accused of fatally force-feeding Enita because the crying child roused the nanny from a nap.
Adeleye, 73, was convicted Monday after a judge found her guilty of child abuse and second-degree murder in Prince George’s County Circuit Court. Adeleye declined a trial by jury and opted to have a judge weigh her case.
During a week of testimony, prosecutors argued that Adeleye unscrewed the lid of Enita’s baby bottle and poured nearly eight ounces of milk down the child’s throat in less than 30 seconds, essentially drowning the girl.
But when she testified in her own defense, Adeleye said she didn’t mean to hurt the child. Adeleye said she was merely trying to ensure that the baby didn’t go hungry and contended it is customary in her home country of Nigeria to force children to eat.
“I did what I needed to do to make sure the baby had food in the stomach,” the mother of five and grandmother of 10 said through a Yoruba interpreter.
The trial took place in the week Enita Salubi would have turned 3. Arguments centered on whether Adeleye acted cruelly and knew that forcing the child to eat in the manner she did could result in the girl’s death.
The girl died Oct. 24, 2016, while in Adeleye’s care, with the incident captured on video by a nanny camera.
Footage aired in court showed the baby bouncing in a walker, pulling on the nanny’s dress and patting her leg as the nanny was lying on a couch. After a few minutes, Adeleye gets up from the couchand tries to give Enita a bottle, the footage showed.
Eventually, Adeleye removes the nipple and lid from the bottle and appears to pour the milk into the baby’s mouth as the baby squirms. The 8-ounce bottle, which was nearly full, was drained in less than half a minute, testimony showed. The baby continued to wriggle in Adeleye’s arms the video showed, before she falls to the ground. Adeleye picks up the child and attempts to give her more liquid from a second bottle, according to the video.
“She was getting her to shut up by pouring down the milk,” Prince George’s County Assistant State’s Attorney Artemis Moutsatsos said at trial.
The video eventually shows Enita going limp like a rag doll, with Adeleye rocking the baby for minutes, trying to make her alert and wiping the girl’s face as her head flops back and forth.
Adeleye and her lawyers said she was “cup feeding” the child. Her defense described cup feeding as placing one’s hand to a child’s mouth and pouring liquid into the hand to give the child food when they don’t want to eat but need feeding.
The defense called relatives of Adeleye as witnesses, who testified she had cared for their children with no problems and that “cup feeding” — pouring liquid in the hand bit by bit — was common in Nigeria.
Adeleye’s attorney, Douglas Wood, argued that Enita’s death was a “tragic accident” and there was no criminal conduct.
Wood argued that this was not a case of child abuse, which legally requires a finding that “cruel or inhumane treatment or malicious acts” occurred. Wood said his client was merely trying to feed the girl.
“All she wanted to do was feed the child,” Wood said. “She wanted to make sure the baby was healthy and the baby was well fed.”
Adeleye was initially charged under her married name of Oluremi Oyindasola. Prince George’s CountyCircuit Court Judge Karen H. Mason found Adeleye guilty of all the charges against her — second-degree murder, second-degree child abuse and child abuse resulting in death.
In announcing the conviction, Mason noted that Adeleye lied to homicide detectives during a recorded interview about how she fed the child. Adeleye at first denied removing the lid of the bottle to feed the baby and then later admitted to unscrewing the cap after a detective told her there was video of the incident, testimony showed. The lying “demonstrates a consciousness of guilt,” said Mason, who also said the nanny’s actions were “cruel and inhumane.”
Adeleye’s defense said that much of the milk ran down the nanny’s dress and down the child’s shirt. But the judge said emergency responders testified that milk came out of the baby’s nose and mouth with each of the 20 chest compressions they administered. The judge also said the child’s father testified to sucking milk out of his daughter’s face.
Adeleye “disregarded any signs of any distress” the child showed as her arms and legs flailed while being fed.
Wood declined to comment on the case after the trial.
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha N. Braveboy said the nanny camera played a key role in securing a conviction.
“You have two loving, caring parents who did everything right,” Braveboy said. “They interviewed the sitter, they got references and they did their homework and research by all accounts . . . but she abused this young child and the reason we were able to prove it is because the parents had the foresight to install a camera.”
Nikia Porter, Enita’s mother, said her family misses their “beauty,” who was always smiling and laughing. Porter and her husband both testified and sat through the trial, sometimes in tears as video of their baby going lifeless replayed over and over in court.
The day before the trial ended — what would have been the weekend of Enita’s third birthday — Porter pulled out a white candle left over from her daughter’s repast from two years ago. A photo of her child smiling in a pink onesie stared back at her as the flame burned.
“I lit the candle,” Porter said, “and prayed that justice would prevail.”