Woman sentenced in death of toddler

Marin Independent Journal/April 19, 2003
By Con Garretson

Deirdre Hart Wilson, the last defendant awaiting sentencing in a case of childhood death and malnourishment in Lucas Valley, was sentenced to seven years and four months yesterday for felony child abuse.

Wilson's five children suffered malnutrition-related deformities in the house they shared with three other women, their mutual lover, Winifred Wright, and eight other children. The malnutrition death of Wright's 19-month-old son Ngido led authorities to the group's home in late 2001.

Marin Superior Court Judge Terrence Boren acknowledged that he struggled with an appropriate sentence for Wilson, finding it difficult to reconcile the caring and generous person her supporters said they've known with the injuries to her children.

In the end, the judge rejected both the defense argument for probation and jail time and the prosecution's request for the maximum sentence of eleven years and four months allowed under her plea deal.

The prosecution submitted as evidence a video of physical examinations of Wilson's five children and some of the other children in the home on Mt. Muir Court. The graphic video, shown during Wright's sentencing last month, was not repeated yesterday.

Deputy District Attorney Barry Borden said two of the children with the worst injuries in the video were Wilson's. One 5-year-old child walked toward the camera with extremely bowed legs, knees close together and feet far apart, resulting from rickets. Another child, 2 years old, was said to be unable to walk or stand because of rickets and erupted into tears when an older sibling had him sit up.

Borden said four of Wilson's five children were 5 or younger at Ndigo's death and suffered various symptoms resulting from inadequate sunlight and a diet lacking in calcium.

One of Wilson's children will have to have corrective surgery involving breaking both legs and resetting them, he said.

The prosecutor said Wilson's oldest son, who was 12 at the time of his parents' arrest in February 2002, was made to dole out corporal punishment to the other children when they violated a "Book of Rules." Authorities said Wilson contributed to the rule book.

Wilson, 39, pleaded guilty in December to five felony counts of abusing or endangering the health of a child under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death. She has been stripped of her parental rights for the five child victims as well as for a sixth child, fathered by Wright, who was born while she was in jail.

In a tearful address to the court yesterday, Wilson, who recently returned to Marin after spending a month at an Ohio cult-deprogramming facility, said she became a "psychological amputee" as a result of physical, psychological and sexual abuse during her 15 years with Wright in San Francisco and Marin.

"Mind control is a reality," she said, after expressing "great sorrow" about Ndigo's death and saying she would be "ashamed for the rest of my life" for allowing her children's injuries.

Defense attorney Douglas Horngrad took the prosecutor to task for contending that Wilson was not a victim of domestic violence because the physical abuse, which included several broken bones, had not occurred in years.

Horngrad also took issue with Borden's contention that Wilson was no more a victim of brainwashing than "Patty Hearst, John Walker Lindh or the Manson women."

The defense attorney, repeatedly comparing Wright to the "devil" and calling him "cruel and delusional," said his own visits to the Lucas Valley "house of horrors" - where multiple images of Wright as a "Christ-like figure" adorned the walls - was as depressing as 1,000 jailhouse visits.

"There was no way to escape the evil," he said. "If you haven't been there, you can't quite get it."

Outside court yesterday, Wilson's parents said they hired professionals a decade ago to remove her from Wright's home for an intervention. But after several days, she chose to return to him along with their son.

"My heart will always be heavy for what Deirdre and her children have suffered," said Bobbie Wilson, the defendant's mother.

Added Dick Wilson, the defendant's father: "Deirdre knows what she's been through and what her family has been through and is beginning to learn how she can help others, which is all she's ever wanted to do."

The Wilsons said they have visited their grandchildren and they are "doing well."

Deirdre Wilson, the granddaughter of Xerox founder Joseph C. Wilson, was the last of three defendants to be sentenced.

In March, Boren sentenced Wright to the maximum sentence allowed under his plea deal, 16 years and eight months. Earlier this month, Boren sentenced Mary Campbell, the mother of Ndigo and six other of Wright's children, to a 10-year prison sentence, which was four years less than the maximum term.

Criminal charges against Kali Polk-Matthews - who was deemed least culpable in the crimes and later gave birth to Wright's child - were dismissed after Campbell, Wilson and Wright made their plea deals in December.

Charges against Carol Bremner, who had two children with Wright, were dropped after she died of leukemia last summer while in police custody.

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