Her tiny body was covered in bruises old and new. She’d been burned in various ways — with cigarettes, a small blow torch, even pushed against a space heater.
Four-year-old Aaliyah Smith weighed just 30 pounds and had cocaine and heroin in her system when she was found dead Nov. 22 in the South Toledo home of Bridgett White. Aaliyah’s two front teeth had been knocked in. And, the evidence indicated, at times she’d been locked in a dog cage in a poorly lit basement.
On Thursday, White, 25, who was supposed to be taking care of Aaliyah and her sister, entered Alford pleas and was found guilty of aggravated murder and endangering children for Aaliyah’s death, which the coroner’s office concluded was caused by chronic abuse and neglect.
“Aaliyah’s body was covered in wounds that were at various stages of healing,” Frank Spryszak, an assistant county prosecutor, told the court. “She had burns and blunt-force trauma marks to her scalp, face, torso, buttocks, arms, hands, legs, and feet.”
After hearing the prosecutor’s harrowing account of the torture Aaliyah suffered at the hands of White, Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Ruth Ann Franks told White she was “clearly” guilty of the two charges.
In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit to committing a crime but acknowledges evidence is sufficient for a conviction that could result in a more severe sentence.
Judge Franks told White repeatedly that when she is sentenced July 28, she will be facing a maximum term of life in prison without eligibility for parole.
“Presume you will never be released from the state penitentiary, and you will die in prison,” the judge told her.
“As harsh as that sounds, it doesn’t sound as harsh as the death of a 4-year-old,” Judge Franks said.
Standing with her court-appointed attorney, Sara Roller, White answered, “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am” to the judge’s questions, seemingly resigned to the fact that she might never get out of prison.
Mr. Spryszak laid out for the court in great detail what the evidence would have shown had the case gone to trial and what injuries Aaliyah suffered while in the exclusive care of White. He also read the callous text messages White had sent to her boyfriend, Tyrone Hooks, in the days before she killed the little girl.
“Your best bet is to get this little bitch out of here tomorrow before I kill her. I’m [expletive] done,” White wrote in a Nov. 15 text.
On Nov. 20, she told him Aaliyah “probably is going to have some marks” on her. “I flipped out and beat her ass, and she’s still not listening to me,” White wrote in a text message.
Mr. Spryszak said Aaliyah and her 8-year-old sister had been placed in the custody of Shaqunia Williams, but that by last October, Ms. Williams was thinking of returning the children to Lucas County Children Services. Instead, Mr. Hooks — who is the father of the 8-year-old and was the live-in boyfriend of White — agreed to take in the two girls and brought them to the Shadowlawn Drive home he shared with White.
Mr. Spryszak said Mr. Hooks was an over-the-road truck driver who was often gone for long stretches. He was gone from Nov. 11 to Nov. 21, and when he returned that night, he saw Aaliyah was in bed. The next morning, he went into her bedroom where he found her body and called 911.
Mr. Hooks, 52, was subsequently indicted for permitting child abuse and endangering children stemming from Aaliyah’s death. Ms. Williams, 28, also is charged with endangering children.
Mr. Spryszak said police seized numerous items from the house, including a “punishment contract” for Aaliyah taped to her bedroom door that said, for example, that she would receive four spankings on her bare buttocks with a black leather belt if she did not do what White told her.
In the basement, police found a dog cage containing hair fibers belonging to Aaliyah as well as a pair of child’s underpants on a chair and a black belt.
“The state believes that there were periods of time where the defendant had locked Aaliyah in the cage for punishment in the basement,” Mr. Spryszak said. “... The state believes that this was the location where some of the punishments were enforced.”
He said White was using heroin and cocaine while the children were in her care, and evidence of both were found in Aaliyah’s system after her death. The gas had been shut off in the house even though Mr. Hooks was sending White money to pay the bills. She was using the money for drugs, Mr. Spryszak said.
As part of the plea agreement, charges of murder, felonious assault, and corrupting another with drugs are to be dismissed at sentencing.
Ms. Roller declined to comment afterward.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.
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