Mother found guilty of child abuse after death of 49-stone daughter, aged 13

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The Independent Online
In a case that became a cause celebre for "fat acceptance" groups in the United States, a California mother was found guilty yesterday of misdemeanor child abuse in the death of her massively overweight 13-year- old daughter. But Judge Richard Arnason, who took the case at the request of defence lawyers, steered a middle course when he found Marlene Corrigan not guilty of a more serious felony charge. She now faces up to one year in jail, instead of a possible six.

Christina Corrigan was discovered dead on the floor of her mother's apartment in November 1996. She weighed nearly 49 stone, had not been to school for a year, and was covered with filth and bedsores, the trial heard. The prosecution claimed that Christina, who died of congestive heart failure caused by obesity, was in obvious need of immediate medical treatment.

Legally, the case hinged on the bedsores - did Marlene Corrigan know of them and, if she did, did she realise how serious they were?

The defence maintained Christina hid the sores from her mother and may have suffered from Prader-Willi Syndrome, a condition with symptoms including an insatiable appetite and a tendency to pick at sores.

Under California law, child abuse is a felony if the abuser inflicts unjustifiable pain or allows the child's health to be endangered under circumstances or conditions "likely to produce great bodily harm or death." Judge Arnason found that there was "absolutely nothing in the record," to show that Ms. Corrigan knew her conduct was likely to kill or seriously harm Christina.

As the verdict was announced, Ms. Corrigan gave a slight smile and said: "I can live with it."

The defence opted to have the judge, rather than a jury, decide the case because of the graphic photographs of Christina's ravaged body.

That aspect of the case - the tragedy of a young girl trapped in a body so large it had to be dragged away on a sheet of canvas - captured the attention of the American public.

Police reported finding Christina surrounded by empty food cartons and said that her 22-year-old brother, Chad, told them she spent her last months lying in front of the television, barely able to reach the bathroom.

Fat activists said the case illustrated the dark side of society's obsession with being thin.

They were pleased that Ms. Corrigan was not convicted of a felony, but said even a misdemeanor was too harsh.

"This family has suffered quite enough," said Frances White, president of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.