Video gets tearful response from Nixzmary jurors

Stepfather is on trial for brutal murder
February 4, 2008 5:16:11 PM PST
The bruises - carefully documented with Polaroid snapshots - nearly covered 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown's body: her back, her arms, around both eyes and neck.Confronted with the photos while being interviewed by authorities, her stepfather, Cesar Rodriguez, paused when asked to explain the black eyes.

"She managed to do that to herself," he finally responded.

Jurors at Rodriguez's murder trial in Brooklyn wept on Monday while watching a videotape of his comments - key evidence in a child brutality case that shocked the city and hastened child welfare reforms.

Rodriguez, 29, has pleaded not guilty to charges he killed Nixzmary on Jan. 11, 2006, with a blow to the head while punishing her for stealing yogurt by putting her head under cold water. The defense claims the girl's mother, who faces a separate trial, was the killer.

On Monday, prosecutors lowered the courtroom lights and played the tape of what they say was a voluntary statement made by Rodriguez shortly after his malnourished daughter's body was discovered.

In a calm voice and with his hands folded, Rodriguez described Nixzmary as a problem child who needed to be bound with duct tape and tied to a chair to keep her from abusing her five siblings in their ramshackle apartment. She also was confined to a room where she used a cat litter box to urinate, he said.

On tape, the defendant admitted beating the victim - or worse - as punishment for what he insisted was deviant behavior.

"Sometimes she'd get me real angry, and I used to just throw her ... on the floor," he said. "She was always lying to me about everything."

Believing Nixzmary had pilfered some yogurt from the refrigerator and damaged a computer printer, her stepfather said, he stuck her head under a running bathtub faucet on her last night alive.

"I took her and threw some cold water on her ... to make her think," he said.

Investigators suspect the girl's head was smashed against the faucet.

On tape, Rodriguez offered another theory for what caused the bleeding of the brain and other fatal wounds: "Perhaps it was when I carelessly threw her on the floor."

Why, a prosecutor asked, did Nixzmary weigh only 36 pounds at the time of her death? Her stepfather said he didn't know since, "I fed her."

His last memory of Nixzmary alive? Naked, breathing heavily and moaning on the floor of her room. He never called for help, he said, even though, "I'd never seen her more pale."

When the courtroom lights were turned on, a court officer produced some tissues and passed them into the jury box.