Muncie, Ind.—A Muncie woman was found guilty Thursday of child neglect in connection with the death of her five-year-old stepdaughter. Brittany McConniel faces 20 to 50 years in prison.
Five-year-old Lauren McConniel died at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis six days after being taken to the hospital in March 2010. She died as the result of brain damage and an unexplained ingestion of a lethal dose of salt. A forensic pediatrician also testified that Lauren's condition was the result of malnutrition over a period of time. Doctors said Lauren also had several bruises on her body.
"There is nothing this child could have done to deserve what was done to her," said Amber Higgins, Lauren's biological mother.
"I would have loved to make this into a murder case but there was no way we could prove Lauren ingested that salt on her own," Prosecutor Jeff Arnold said.
The prosecutor said evidence proved there was severe and persistent abuse and neglect in the home. Reports revealed Lauren had been acting out possibly as a result of sexual abuse. She would mutilate her dolls, bit herself and her siblings, rock back and forth for hours while repeating the phrase 'I hate myself.' Lauren also reportedly ate out of trash cans, would throw up and then eat her vomit and even ate her own feces.
McConniel's attorney said while his client may have neglected Lauren, someone else in the home may have been sexually abusing her. The same man he said molested Brittany as a child.
"I think she is a scapegoat and I think there are other people out there that should have been charged," said Zaki Ali, McConniel's attorney.
Lauren's mother said she is waiting for additional charges. She claimed justice has not been served following the conviction.
"I would have rather they did it to me instead of my daughter, any child not just my daughter any child. No child deserves this," Higgins said.
Lauren was placed in the custody of her father, Ryan McConniel, and Brittany in 2009. Ryan McConniel testified against his now former wife as part of a guilty plea to a lesser charge of neglect. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. He told jurors Brittany McConniel and her stepfather, Robert Lee, had punished his daughter by beating her with wooden sticks.
Other people may soon face charges in the girl's death.
Brittany McConniel will be sentenced June 13.