Gloria Nelligan first made her 8-year-old grandson apologize for stealing a pack of gum. Then she made him write essays about what he did and why it was wrong.
Unsatisfied with the essays, she allegedly made him run stairs and do pushups. Still unsatisfied, and days after the initial gum theft, beatings began, a prosecutor told a Schenectady County Court judge Monday morning as she laid out her accusations in Nelligan’s murder trial.
Prosecutor Christina Tremante-Pelham’s grim narrative continued.
The beatings under way, Sha’hiim, bent over a chair, began to cry, so Nelligan put a sock in his mouth. When he started to move from the blows, she used a jump-rope to tie him to the chair legs.
“She didn’t stop after a few minutes,” Tremante-Pelham told Judge Karen Drago. “She didn’t stop after an hour, but it continued hour after hour. It was painful. She intended to inflict pain.
“It was brutal,” Tremante-Pelham continued a short time later. “It was torture. It was so severe that it caused his death.”
Nelligan, 43, is standing trial on one count of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter.
She is accused in the Feb. 23 death of her grandson, Sha’hiim, at their Mynderse Street residence.
Prosecutors accuse Nelligan of beating the boy so much that swelling caused his heart to stop because of a lack of blood.
Nelligan has contended that the boy hit his head on the bathtub on the morning he died. She said he was acting out and hurting himself in the days leading to his death.
Opening statements in the case took place Monday morning after Nelligan chose to have her case heard by Drago alone, without a jury.
Tremante-Pelham, describing the boy’s injuries, said the bruises started on Sha’hiim’s face and went down to his arms and legs. He also had one massive bruise around his lower back, buttocks and thighs, the prosecutor said.
By the time paramedics were finally called, Sha’hiim’s heart had stopped and medical personnel were unable to revive him, Tremante-Pelham said.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Mark Caruso said his client admitted to police that she did hit Sha’hiim with a back scratcher as discipline, but not the prolonged beating prosecutors allege.
Caruso said Tremante-Pelham’s account was based on witnesses who have told a different account to the defense, Caruso said.
“She’s hoping that that’s what the witnesses are going to say,” Caruso told Drago.
Nelligan’s three children who lived with her at the time, ages 10 to 16, are expected to testify in the case. Caruso said he would question what the children were told when they gave their initial account. He alleged that they were told that they would be able to go home with their oldest brother, D.C. Dunkel, if they just cooperated with police and prosecutors.
Caruso also countered Tremante-Pelham’s account of the sock and jump-rope. During questioning by a detective later in the morning, Caruso said, Nelligan indicated Sha’hiim had mental health issues and that he put the sock in his own mouth and tried to tie himself up, injured his face on the floor and asked her to beat him. She also contended to police that Sha’hiim threw himself backward into the tub that morning. She also didn’t change her story when pressed by detectives, Caruso emphasized.
Caruso called the case grossly overcharged. He said that, at best, it was a lesser case of criminally negligent homicide, maybe second-degree assault, not murder or manslaughter.
Murder, he said, required the belief that actions would cause death.
The gum incident happened Tuesday, Feb. 19, Tremante-Pelham told the judge, as the children were home on winter break. That’s when Nelligan, Sha’hiim and Nelligan’s three youngest children went to the Dollar General on State Street.
After Nelligan discovered that Sha’hiim took the gum, she took everyone back to the store to make Sha’hiim apologize, the prosecutor said. Back in the store, Nelligan grabbed the boy’s head and yanked it back twice to make him apologize, she said. The visit to the store was caught on the store’s surveillance cameras.
Though Sha’hiim was Nelligan’s grandson, she had custody. But Tremante-Pelham described the boy’s room as bare, except for furniture. The room of Nelligan’s daughters was filled with toys and decorations.
Once home, Nelligan started making Sha’hiim write essays saying what he did wrong. And that continued through Thursday, with Nelligan never satisfied with what Sha’hiim wrote, Tremante-Pelham said.
When Friday came, Nelligan changed tactics, allegedly making Sha’hiim run up and down the stairs and do pushups.
“Even that wasn’t enough,” Tremante-Pelham said.
Nelligan then took out a wooden back scratcher and started beating Sha’hiim, the prosecutor said. After another unsatisfactory attempt at pushups, the beatings continued. Then came the sock and the restraints, Tremante-Pelham said.
At one point, Sha’hiim escaped and ran upstairs, Tremante-Pelham said. The prosecutor didn’t indicate when the jump-rope restraint was removed.
“It was his final escape,” the prosecutor said. “Unfortunately, the defendant wanted more. She continued on. She wasn’t done.”
In all, the beating continued for at least 12 hours, Tremante-Pelham said.
By 1 a.m., Nelligan put Sha’hiim in the shower. The sound of someone slipping and falling was heard. Sha’hiim was then sent to his room with no medical attention.
There was another shower later in the morning, Tremante-Pelham said. Soon after, the girls discovered Sha’hiim on his bedroom floor, asking for help, she said. When they tried to pick him up, he cried out in pain.
Nelligan’s 16-year-old daughter tried to get Nelligan to call for help, but no call was made, the prosecution alleges.
Finally, at 10:06 a.m. on Saturday, Nelligan allowed her daughter to call. By then, Sha’hiim was no longer breathing, authorities said.