Gloria Nelligan, the woman accused of killing her 8-year-old grandson in February, pleaded not guilty Friday to charges contained in an indictment.
Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago also denied a defense request that bail be set and signed a temporary order of protection for three of Nelligan’s children who are witnesses in the case.
Nelligan, 43, appeared in court with her attorney, Schenectady County public defender Mark Caruso. She was in orange jail clothing and used a cane to assist her in walking.
Nelligan, of 23 Mynderse St., faces one count each of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in the Feb. 23 death of her grandson, Sha’hiim.
Nelligan is accused of killing her grandson “under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life” in which she “recklessly engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of serious physical injury or death.”
The child’s alleged theft of a pack of gum from a local store may have led to the beating, sources have said.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney wouldn’t discuss Nelligan’s alleged motive after her arraignment Friday. He did, however, indicate that Nelligan is believed to have used a wooden back scratcher and hair brush, as well as other items, to beat the child.
The beatings, Carney said, took place over a 24-hour period and were so severe that much of the child’s blood went to bruising. That meant there was little blood left to circulate in his body, causing his death.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Carney said Friday. “You have to understand, this is not corporal punishment. This was a beating so severe that his blood went pretty exclusively to the bruised and battered tissue.”
Prosecutor Christina Tremante-Pelham argued against bail, saying Nelligan has limited ties to the community and has had no contact with her children since the incident. Tremante-Pelham later formalized that by successfully arguing for a full stay-away order of protection for the children.
Tremante-Pelham also noted that Nelligan was not employed. She characterized Nelligan’s criminal history as minimal, but did note she has two prior convictions. A defense affidavit filed with the bail application identifies both as more than 15 years old.
In November 1996, Nelligan pleaded guilty to one count of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor, and received a conditional discharge. Six years earlier, in June 1990, Nelligan pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree attempted criminal possession of a weapon and was sentenced to six months in jail.
The main argument against bail, though, was the severity of the charges.
“The grand jury found sufficient evidence to also add a count of murder in the second degree on the theory that the defendant subjected her 8-year-old grandson to a brutal and prolonged beating that amounted to torture and ultimately caused his death,” Tremante-Pelham told Drago. “She faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life. As such, the people have significant concerns about her willingness to reappear in court, should she be released.”
Nelligan was arrested the day after the boy’s death and charged with first-degree manslaughter, which has a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison. The grand jury then added the murder charge in the indictment, which was handed up last week.
Caruso submitted written arguments in support of bail. In that filing, Caruso asked Drago to set bail at $50,000.
Nelligan has lived in Schenectady for the past 28 years. She has five children, including the three that were living with her at the time of her grandson’s death, according to the accompanying affidavit. All three of the children were still not yet 18, and she also had legal custody of Sha’hiim.
Nelligan described herself in the affidavit as being unable to work and wrote that she was receiving Supplemental Security Income.
Were she to be released on bail, Nelligan wrote in the accompanying affidavit that she expected to live with her grandfather in Clifton Park. She was also amenable to any other conditions, including reporting to probation, GPS monitoring and house arrest.
Caruso declined to add to his filing in court.
Drago ultimately found Nelligan has significant ties to the community and a limited criminal history. However, the judge focused on the charges against her, calling her sentence exposure the most important factor in her bail decision.
“I do believe that one factor is the overriding factor here,” Drago said, after noting that she does presume Nelligan’s innocence, “and I am going to deny bail at this juncture.”
Drago also granted the prosecution’s request for the order of protection, identifying the children as witnesses. In court, Tremante-Pelham took pains to only identify the orders as for witnesses. Caruso, though, identified them in his arguments as Nelligan’s children.
The prosecution did consent, however, to allowing the children to write letters to their mother, if they chose to. Nelligan won’t be allowed to respond, however.
Drago did leave open the possibility of a change in her decision, should the children be assigned a law guardian and if further arguments were made.
Relatives of Nelligan were in court for the proceedings. They declined to comment afterward. Caruso also left the courthouse without commenting to reporters.