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Published: Friday, 12/4/2009

Flint Michigan mom pleads no contest in quadriplegic girl's death


DETROIT — A Flint woman accused of starving her adopted quadriplegic daughter to death and stashing the body in a storage unit pleaded no contest Friday to involuntary manslaughter.

Lorrie Thomas' plea came four days before she was to go to trial on second-degree murder and other charges.

The body of 9-year-old Shylae Thomas was found inside a 33-gallon container in a storage unit in Vienna Township, about 65 miles northwest of Detroit, in April. Police have said the girl was starved to death.

Her body was covered in mothballs and stored for about six weeks before it was discovered.

Authorities claimed Thomas didn't provide enough liquid nutrition through a permanent feeding tube in the girl's stomach.

"There are certainly no winners in this situation," prosecutor David Leyton said in a statement. "I am only gratified in knowing that we, as a community, were able to give Shylae's life the respect it deserved in a court of law."

While a no-contest plea is not a guilty plea, it is treated the same when determining a sentence. Defense lawyer Mark Clement predicted Thomas would get 3 1/2 to seven years in prison when she returns to court Jan. 11. The maximum punishment is 15 years.

Clement said Thomas received conflicting feeding instructions and didn't intend to mistreat the child. But he said a plea deal was in her best interest.

"You'd have a jury that's going to look at horrific photographs of a child that's been paralyzed all her life," Clement told The Associated Press by phone from Flint. "We were really concerned the jury would have no context to put that in, other than their own healthy children."

Thomas was Shylae's biological aunt before she adopted her in 2003.

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