PHILADELPHIA – An absentee father on trial in his disabled daughter's starvation death at her mother's home offered his first defense against a child-endangerment charge Friday, alleging his ex-wife hid the child from him.
Daniel Kelly's felony trial marks the apparent end to a 2006 child-neglect death that rocked the city's child-welfare system and led to the criminal convictions of nearly a dozen social workers and administrators. Two city health officials were ousted.
Andrea Kelly is serving 20 to 40 years after pleading guilty to third-degree murder in her daughter's death.
Danieal Kelly, who suffered from cerebral palsy and mental retardation, weighed 42 pounds when she died at age 14. She rarely if ever went to school or saw a doctor in her later years, and had maggot-infested bedsores when she died.
"There were so many opportunities to spare her from the agony that she suffered," Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber told jurors in opening statements.
Danieal, who could not walk or talk, spent her days in bed in a stifling, squalid apartment shared by her mother and eight siblings.
She had once thrived in the custody of her father and his girlfriend in Arizona, where she attended a special-needs school. But she rarely went to school after the couple broke up and the girlfriend moved on.
Selber said the girl and a brother spent two years with her father, then returned to Philadelphia, where he ultimately abandoned them to an unfit mother.
Defense lawyer Earl Kauffman reminded jurors that Danieal had weighed 100 pounds in her father's care. He said his client was allowed visits with his son, but not with Danieal.
"He was never able to see his daughter, not because he didn't try," Kauffman said.
He pledged that Kelly would testify during the trial, which is expected to take about two weeks.
Kelly remains in custody after failing to show for court last year. U.S. marshals later found him in Indiana.
The city was paying a startup firm, MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., $1 million a year to focus on its neediest cases, including the Kellys. MultiEthnic workers, convicted of fraud for not delivering the services, received long prison sentences, including company founder Mickal Kumavaka. She was sentenced to more than 17 years.
Kumavaka now sits beside Daniel Kelly at trial, defending herself against state charges that include perjury, forgery and involuntary manslaughter.
"Her agency was a fraud from top to bottom," Selber said.
The prosecutor said Kumavaka assigned an unpaid college intern to the Kelly family, then replaced him months after he left with an inept social worker, who didn't visit the house. After the girl died, Kamuvaka hastily organized "a forgery fest" so documents would suggest the visits were done, Selber said.
Kamuvaka's lawyer blamed Danieal's death on her mother, saying she hid family problems from workers who tried to help.
"If Andrea Kelly killed her daughter, why are we here?" lawyer Joshua Scarpello asked. "The government is trying to find other people to blame."
The final co-defendant, former Philadelphia intake worker Dana Poindexter, is charged with child endangerment, perjury and reckless endangerment for allegedly ignoring repeated complaints about the family over several years. His job was to investigate and refer the family to needed services within 60 days.
His lawyer said he had a heavy caseload that included 10 new cases a week.
"They're trying to pass criminal blame to someone who didn't fill out paperwork," lawyer Craig Hosay said. "The mother undermined every effort he was making to get services for Danieal."
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