Abused in One Home, Child Meets Death in the Next

Relates to:
Date: 1995-05-26
Source: nytimes.com

KIMBERLY J. MCLARIN

Queenie Baker came to the home of Edwin and Rosa Hall so beaten and stunted that at 18 months old she still did not eat solid food. Taking only milk or other liquids, she arrived in a body cast that stretched from the middle of her small chest to the top of her left foot.

She and two siblings had been rescued from a father who beat them cruelly and given to a family that, by all accounts, could nurse the frail and frightened child back to health.

"Queenie was very frail; she wouldn't gain weight," Edwin Hall, the foster father, said yesterday. "You couldn't reach her. She wouldn't talk. The only word she picked up was 'Uh oh.' "

The Halls did begin to reach her; a month after she arrived, some time in March, Queenie began taking bits of solid food. But on Wednesday, the girl, apparently badly beaten, was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center, where she died from what the Medical Examiner said was a series of blows to her chest and her head.

Yesterday, the police charged Rosa Hall, the foster mother who tried to nurse Queenie back to good health, with murder in the 21-month-old girl's death.

The death came only two days after another former foster care child was hospitalized with bruises and burns and suffering from malnutrition in a case that raised questions about whether the city's Child Welfare Administration heeded warnings about abuse. But in the case of Queenie, who in less than two years bounced from one foster home to an abusive father and finally to the Halls' home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, in Brooklyn, the police said there were no warnings that could have prevented her death. They describe the couple's basement apartment as immaculate, and say neither Queenie's brother Paul, 3, nor her stepsister Shawanna White, 6, nor the Halls' two children, ages 1 and 11, show any sign of being abused.

"There was nothing to indicate any problem, nothing in this case that C.W.A. should have done," said Lieut. Charles Dowd.

Karen Calhoun, a spokeswoman for the Child Welfare Administration, said confidentiality laws prevented her from commenting on either case. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, at a news conference at City Hall, said that he had reviewed the facts of the two cases. "From what they showed me it looks as if both these cases were handled according to regular procedures," Mr. Giuliani said. He added that the Child Welfare Administration would investigate the cases to determine if there were ways to improve procedures.

In the other case, the police have charged Esperanza Seeley, 25, and her boyfriend, Luis Rodriguez, 31, with abusing Ms. Seeley's 4-year-old daughter, Margarita.

Together the two cases have again raised questions about the ability of the city's Child Welfare Administration and its overburdened caseworkers to protect the most vulnerable children. Margarita's former foster mother says she warned social workers that the child was in danger, and relatives of the child say they also tried to report abuse.

But it was not until a housing inspector, Raymond Berry, called the police on Monday -- after seeing Margarita hit in the head by another child -- that the girl was taken away.

"She didn't yell, Mr. Berry said, "She did all she could to blink real hard."

Margarita was taken to Harlem Hospital Center with bruises and burns all over her body. She was extremely thin, with a distended belly characteristic of starvation and a large clump of hair missing from her head, according to court papers.

Mrs. Hall, who was to be arraigned last night on murder and manslaughter charges, told the police that Queenie had suffered a seizure and fallen down the stairs, striking her head.

But the police said that while she was trying to get the little girl to eat a dish of liver and rice, something snapped in Mrs. Hall, leading her to beat Queenie over several hours with the heel of a hard-soled shoe.

But neighbors of the family refuse to believe it.

"Nobody believes it," said Mildol Dias, 48, who lives on the second floor. "She's a good person. The husband is too. That's a good family."

The city's Medical Examiner ruled that Queenie died from blunt impact injuries to her head and chest and that she had a pattern of old injuries he labeled as "child abuse syndrome." But Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the Medical Examiner, declined to say whether the injuries had occurred before Queenie came to live with the Halls.

Mr. Hall said he and his wife took Queenie and her two siblings into their home in February, after the two younger children were brutalized by their father, Paul Baker. Both Queenie and Paul arrived in casts.

Mr. Baker was arrested Feb. 15 in the Bronx and charged with beating the children. He pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to three years' probation and attendance in a parenting program.

The Halls already had two children living in the house.

"My wife couldn't have any more kids so we decided we'd try to do foster care," Mr. Hall said. "Queenie came with nothing but her cast on -- no clothing, no toys, no nothing. She weighed 20 or 30 pounds."

Mr. Hall said Shawanna told him how her stepfather had beaten the two younger children. She acted it out for him, punching a doll in the face.

Mr. Hall, who did not say where he was at the time, said his wife told him she gave Queenie a dish of rice and a piece of liver because the little girl was crying. While Mrs. Hall was doing the dishes, she heard a loud thump, Mr. Hall said.

"Queenie was on the floor at the bottom of the steps shaking, having a seizure," he said. "Her mouth was bleeding. She bit her tongue."

Mr. Hall said his wife dipped the girl into the bathtub where Paul was bathing, trying to revive her. When Queenie went limp, the family dialed 911.

Paul, Shawanna and the Halls' two children were taken into protective custody, leaving Mr. Hall and family members to protest Rosa Hall's innocence alone. The police said Mr. Hall was not a suspect in the case.

But at least one of the other children gave the police a statement that implicated Mrs. Hall, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the case.

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