SEBRING — A mother accused of neglecting her four children to the point where one died of malnutrition was convicted Friday of aggravated manslaughter of a child and three counts of neglect after a three-day trial.
A Highlands County Circuit Court jury acquitted Sandra Jackson of one count of child neglect, as in the case of the child who died, 9-month-old Milo Rupert, they could only convict her of either the more serious charge of manslaughter or neglect.
Sentencing will be done at a later date, Circuit Judge William Sites said.
The jury deliberated less than two hours before reaching a verdict. The jury on Friday heard closing arguments.
Assistant State Attorney Richard Castillo said that day after day Jackson would return home from work and see her children getting thinner, the cockroaches crawling all over their apartment and the increasing dirtiness, a prosecutor told a jury Friday.
Yet, she did “nothing or next to nothing,” to resolve those problems and protect the children depending on her, Castillo told the jury.
And that’s why Jackson should be convicted of aggravated manslaughter of a child, Castillo said.
But Robert Gray, the attorney who represented Jackson, said the state relied on sensational evidence, such as photos of the dead child, to seek to convict the mother, while ignoring what supported another cause of death.
Gray, who admitted that Jackson was guilty of neglect, called it a “Perry Mason” moment, that Kyle Rupert, the former boyfriend of Jackson, admitted earlier Friday on the stand that he might have fed too much apple sauce to Milo Rupert, the 9-month-old child found dead on July 7, 2012, in the dirty Avon Park apartment, the night of Milo’s death. Perry Mason was the fictional attorney who always got someone to confess during a trial.
The defense attorney suggested that Kyle Rupert broke the nipple on a bottle containing apple sauce and that resulted in Milo eating too much apple sauce, which ruptured his shrunken stomach that resulted from two days of not fully digesting any food.
Jackson and Kyle Rupert, both of Avon Park, were charged last year with three counts of child neglect without great harm, one charge of child neglect with great harm and one count of aggravated manslaughter of a child. That was after an autopsy showed that Milo had died of malnutrition and his three sisters were malnourished.
Kyle Rupert subsequently plead guilty and was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
Gray said that Rupert was responsible for Milo’s death. While agreeing with Castillo that the boyfriend didn’t intend to kill the child, he suggested that Rupert either fed Milo too much apple sauce, or strangled or smothered him to get him to stop crying so he could play video games.
The problem with the apple sauce theory was that an associate medical examiner testified the apple sauce caused the stomach to rupture after death, Castillo said. And Castillo said of the other possible causes that if jurors looked at the total situation not enough evidence supported the cause of death being something other than malnutrition.
Earlier Kyle Rupert testified that he did nothing to cause Milo’s death and he did his best to take care of Milo and the other children.
“I cared about him and my daughter and I could never hurt him,” he said. “I did my best. She (Sandra Jackson) did her best.”
But, Timothy Reichersamer, who lived with Jackson and Rupert, during part of 2012, said that he had to practically nag Rupert to check on his son.
Still, Rupert testified that when he found Milo dead, he “leaned over his body and cried.”
He broke a door and some glass out of anger from finding out Milo died, he said. “What I had worked for had just disappeared,” he said.