Mother Guilty In Girl's Death Nancy Jane Montalbano Filed A Plea To Voluntary Manslaughter. A Murder Charge Was Dropped.

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Date: 1998-03-22

By Laura Barnhardt

Nancy Jane Montalbano, the mother of two, walked into court as the accused murderer of one.

But the weeping Perkiomenville woman, 46, pleaded guilty only to voluntary manslaughter Friday in the death of her 3-year-old adopted daughter in October. A charge of third-degree murder was dropped.

Montgomery County Judge S. Gerald Corso is to decide this Friday whether to accept her plea of guilty but mentally ill.

``Under the circumstances, voluntary manslaughter seemed most appropriate,'' said Assistant District Attorney Christopher P. Maloney.

To convict Montalbano of third-degree murder, the prosecution would have had to prove that Montalbano acted with malice - a hardness of the heart - when she lost control and struck her daughter. Upon further investigation, Maloney said, the District Attorney's Office found no evidence of that.

According to Montalbano's attorney, Richard D. Winters, Montalbano was trying to take a family photo of her daughter, Christine, and her 4-year-old son, Richie, both of whom were adopted from Honduras. He said Christine had become upset and was hitting and biting her brother and mother. When the little girl knocked over a potty chair, Montalbano struck the child and put her to bed.

Later that day, Montalbano told police that she discovered the child was no longer breathing and rushed her to Grand View Hospital in Sellersville, where she was pronounced dead.

``She was not an abusive parent,'' said Winters. ``This was a woman who didn't even believe in hitting her children at all. She used time-out as a punishment.''

That day, Winters said, she snapped.

Before adopting the children, Montalbano had been treated for anxiety and depression, Winters said.

Since her arrest, Montalbano has been taking medication for her condition and has been treated at Norristown State Hospital. She is currently being treated in a hospital unit at Montgomery County prison, where she is being held without bail.

Prison officials said she was under a suicide watch. ``She's extremely distraught that she's responsible for the death of her child,'' said Winters.

Montalbano's son is being cared for by her common-law husband, who was in court yesterday, crying and shaking his head.

Montalbano also wept through much of the proceedings. On the witness stand, with her shoulders slumped and her long, brown hair blending in with the pine panels behind her, Montalbano was barely visible. It was difficult to hear her as she told the judge that she was capable of understanding what was happening around her.

Even if Corso does not find her mentally ill, Montalbano agreed that her guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter would stand. She could face up to 20 years in prison at sentencing.


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