Cop: Fetus found at Nixzmary's home

Stepfather is on trial for brutal murder
January 18, 2008 3:03:00 PM PST
Investigators searching the Brooklyn apartment where 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown was tortured made a grim discovery on a bedroom dresser: an apparent fetus in a jar. Detective Joseph Bello testified about the find Friday at the murder trial of Nixzmary's stepfather, where the defense has sought to shift blame by suggesting the mother took out her anguish over a recent miscarriage by fatally beating her daughter.

On cross-examination, Bello was asked to describe a crime scene photo from the family's three-bedroom apartment of the master bedroom dresser, which was covered with lotion bottles, stereo speakers and other items. Among them was a jar containing a murky, brownish substance.

"It was explained to me that it was a fetus," the NYPD investigator told the jury of 10 women and two men.

Outside court, defense attorney Jeffrey Schwartz called the testimony a "bombshell" and said it shows the mother had a motive for murder.

He repeated the defense claim that Nixzmary was an unruly eldest child who disrupted the household, and said her "demented" mother, Nixzaliz Santiago, "blamed Nixzmary for the death of her (unborn) child."

The lawyer said that the mother of six "used to pray to and cry to" the jar, ignoring her husband's pleas to throw it away. Jurors will hear that the medical examiner determined that the contents were that of a fetus, he added.

Assistant District Attorney Ama Dwimoh played down the jar evidence, saying it did nothing to clear Cesar Rodriguez. She reminded reporters that the mother also was facing murder charges in a separate trial based on the theory that the couple killed the girl "working together as a team."

Authorities say Nixzmary, who died on Jan. 11, 2006, was bound with tape, tethered to a chair and forced to use a cat litter box - a case that shocked the city and prompted child welfare reforms.

Rodriguez, 29, has pleaded not guilty to charges he killed the malnourished child with a blow to the head while punishing her for stealing yogurt by dunking her under cold water. If convicted, he faces 25 years to life in prison.