Opening statements in the murder trial of the city grandmother accused of killing her 8-year-old grandson are set to take place today with the start of her trial.
Gloria Nelligan, 43, last week waived her right to a jury trial, instead asking to put her fate in the hands of a judge alone.
Nelligan , 43, is facing one count each of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter, accused of causing the Feb. 23 death of her grandson, Sha’hiim Nelligan. The boy was in her care.
Prosecutors accused Nelligan of essentially beating the boy to death, causing swelling so severe that his heart stopped because of lack of blood.
Nelligan contends that the boy hit his head on the bathtub on the morning he died, one of several incidents of the boy acing out and hurting himself in the days leading to his death.
jury trial waived
It was Nelligan defense attorney Mark Caruso who recommended to his client that she forgo a jury trial, according to the court appearance where she waived the jury. He declined later to discuss his reasoning.
Such decisions, though, are typically made when a case hinges on important legal issues, ones where emotional evidence might unduly impact a jury’s decision, according to Albany Law School professor Laurie Shanks. Shanks is not involved in the Nelligan case.
The prosecution’s case, Shanks said, contains horrific evidence, including photos.
“It is extremely hard to look at those pictures and not feel like someone must be responsible,” Shanks said about homicide trials in general.
A judge, she said, would have an easier time focusing on the law and setting aside the emotion.
“The hope is,” Shanks said, “that a judge, who is trained to be somewhat more dispassionate, would be better to do that than a lay juror.”
According to the indictment, 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.”
Prosecutors have alleged Nelligan beat the boy over a 24-hour period, partially in response to the child’s alleged theft of a pack of gum from a local store.
The beatings came at their 23 Mynderse St. residence, authorities allege, with Nelligan accused of inflicting the injuries by way of a wooden back scratcher and hair brush, as well as other items.
Kids’ testimony expected
Nelligan had custody of Sha’hiim, granted to her by her daughter, Sha’hiim’s mother. Sha’hiim was the youngest child in the house. Three of Nelligan’s other children still lived there and are expected to testify.
In the bench trials that have occurred in Schenectady County, defendants have had some success, but failures, too.
One man in particular twice chose bench trials, each in separate cases. They each had different results.
Craig Williams, then a 21-year-old witness to the 2003 Schenectady killing of 19-year-old Unishun Mollette, was acquitted by a judge in a 2004 trial over accusations he tampered with evidence in the murder case.
Later indicted and tried in 2007 on related perjury counts, Williams again chose a bench trial. The second time, though, ended in conviction, that presiding judge finding he lied to a grand jury. Williams is now serving 10 to 20 years in state prison.
In Nelligan’s case, she still can change her mind until the start of the trial, officials said.