0 Couple from Hawai`i sentenced to life For starving their daughter...
Prolonged starvation left a 12-year-old Honolulu girl so emaciated that she resembled someone "from Darfur or a concentration camp in World War II," a prosecutor said in court yesterday.
The child's parents, Melvin and Denise Wright, were sentenced to life in prison for attempting to starve their daughter to death in 2007, and Senior Deputy Prosecutor Maurice Arrisgado said he will ask the Hawai'i Paroling Authority to require the pair to serve at least 50 years before they can apply for parole.
The girl weighed just 29 pounds — 50 pounds less than normal — and was hours from death when the Wrights finally summoned an ambulance to their Kína'u Street condominium in January 2007.
"I've never heard of this kind of deprivation in the United States," Arrisgado said. "This was a horrible and atrocious event."
The Wrights were convicted in September of second-degree attempted murder and were sentenced yesterday by Family Court Judge Rhonda Nishimura to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Denise Wright's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Debra Loy, repeated arguments made during trial that her client suffers from debilitating mental disorders that rendered her incapable of properly caring for her daughter.
"This case is about fear and love," Loy said.
Denise Wright fell in love with Melvin when the two met in South Carolina.
"Then she became afraid of losing him, afraid of abuse," Loy said.
Denise Wright testified during the trial that she had become estranged from her husband, who had moved out of the apartment to live with another woman, but still depended on him to supply food and pay household bills. When food supplies became scarce, and her child became weaker and weaker from malnourishment, Wright said she was too "ashamed and afraid" to seek help.
She rarely ventured outside and fed her daughter macaroni and cheese or potatoes "one or two times a day," Denise Wright testified.
Lane Takahashi, Melvin Wright's lawyer, said during the trial that his client "was not the greatest father" but provided as best he could for his wife and child.
Denise Wright declined to make a statement yesterday but Loy read a letter that the defendant had written.
She said in the letter she "allowed fear to control" her.
She said she felt she was "protecting my daughter when in fact I was doing more harm than good."
Loy said that although Denise Wright has lost all parental rights to her child, the girl still talks to her mother on the telephone from South Carolina, where she is now living with her grandparents.
The child, now 15, has said she loves and forgives her mother, according to Loy.
But Arrisgado said the girl has been permanently brain-damaged by prolonged malnourishment and may not adequately understand what was done to her.
And recently the child has been exhibiting behavior problems, the prosecutor said.
"Her condition has gotten worse. She's acting out at school, acting out at home," Arrisgado said.
Melvin Wright also declined to make a statement at the hearing. Defense lawyer Takahashi said he had instructed his client to remain silent because an appeal of the conviction is planned.
Loy also said she plans an appeal.
The state Department of Human Services has asked that the Wrights be required to pay restitution of $20,773 in medical expenses incurred to date for treatment of the girl. And the costs of her care continue to increase, Arrisgado said.
Nishimura scheduled another hearing on that matter next month after the defense lawyers said the Wrights are destitute and should not be held legally responsible for expenses incurred after the state terminated their parental rights.
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