Gloria Nelligan’s youngest daughters watched a movie in the kitchen of their Mynderse Street home the evening of Feb. 22, daughter Amelia Matrazzo told a judge Tuesday morning.
As they watched the movie, Amelia, 14, testified she had to turn up the volume.
“Why did you turn up the volume?” prosecutor Christina Tremante-Pelham asked Amelia.
“So I couldn’t hear it,” Amelia responded.
What she was drowning out, Amelia testified at her mother's murder trial, were the sounds of Nelligan beating her 8-year-old grandson, Sha’hiim Nelligan, in the next room.
Another of Nelligan's daughter, 17-year-old Leahcima Phillips, testified hearing a thud from Sha’hiim’s room the next morning. Leahcima said she went to see him and Sha’hiim could hardly move, she said.
“He was laying on the floor. The whole side of him was purple,” an emotional Leahcima testified. “I tried to help him, but he started crying.”
Her mother prevented the daughters from doing anything, Leahcima said.
“She said to leave him alone because he was looking for sympathy,” Leahcima testified, echoing earlier testimony by Amelia.
Finally, just after 10 a.m. and another thud, Gloria Nelligan went back upstairs and yelled for the girls to call 911.
Nelligan, 43, is standing trial on charges of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in Sha'hiim's death Feb. 23 in their Mynderse Street residence. Nelligan had custody of Sha'hiim.
Prosecutors said Nelligan beat the boy so badly swelling caused his heart to stop because of a lack of blood. The beating, prosecutors allege, was over a pack of gum Sha’hiim had stolen from a store days earlier.
Nelligan contended the boy hit his head on the bathtub the morning he died. She said he was acting out and hurting himself in the days leading to his death.
The case is being tried before Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago and without a jury, a request Nelligan made before the start of the trial.
Amelia and Leahcima, along with the youngest Nelligan daughter, 11-year-old Monae Parson, testified that Sha’hiim was found by Nelligan to have stolen a pack of gum from the Dollar General store on State Street the Tuesday before he died. Nelligan made everyone go back so Sha’hiim could apologize, then made Sha’hiim write essays over the next two days explaining why what he did was wrong. Finally, that Friday, Nelligan made him do pushups and run stairs. Then the beatings began, prosecutors say.
Tuesday’s court session was the first time the girls have seen their mother since Sha’hiim’s death. An order of protection prevented Nelligan from having any contact with them.
At times, Nelligan could be seen smiling at her daughters as testimony turned to mundane topics, like Amelia cleaning her room or her thoughts on the house rules.
As the youngest, Monae, took the stand, she waved at her mother, and her mother waved back.
The girls were quiet as they testified, looking down as they spoke. The judge leaned in at times from her seat on the bench to explain what was happening and that their answers were important.
After her testimony began, Monae covered her eyes with her right hand as she gave short and direct answers, sometimes indicating she didn’t want to answer.
She also required a break to compose herself. When she returned, her oldest brother’s fiancee was allowed to sit near her.
Tremante-Pelham asked Monae if she saw her mother do anything with a back scratcher. An emotional Monae responded, “I don’t want to answer.”
Later, Monae testified that the evening before Sha’hiim died, she was in her room crying. Tremante-Pelham asked why she was crying, and Monae responded, with her hand over her eyes, “Because I didn’t want Sha’hiim to get hurt.”
The beating, Amelia testified, went on for hours that evening. At one point, she said, she saw Sha’hiim pass her doorway upstairs, with her mother following behind.
Though she couldn’t see it, from what her mother was saying, it appeared Sha’hiim was hiding under his bed.
After hearing her mother demand Sha’hiim get out from under the bed, she saw her carry Sha’hiim back downstairs.
Nelligan’s attorney, Mark Caruso, tried to bring out other topics, like Amelia’s feelings toward her mother the week Sha’hiim died. Amelia admitted she was mad at her mother that week over discipline handed out because of problems at school.
Caruso also questioned Amelia and the others about what they actually saw, whether she actually saw her mother put a sock in Sha’hiim’s mouth or tie him to a chair. Amelia testified she didn’t see them happen, but saw the results.
Under questioning again by Tremante-Pelham, Amelia testified she saw both of Sha’hiim’s arms tied to the chair as Nelligan beat him.
Caruso also tried to suggest through questioning that Sha’hiim was clumsy and bruised easily.
Caruso questioned what Amelia was told by investigators. She said she was told she could go home with her oldest brother if she cooperated.
Tremante-Pelham followed up, asking Amelia if she was telling the truth about what happened to Sha’hiim. Amelia said she was.
Tremante-Pelham also asked the girls if anyone other than their mother hit Sha’hiim. They said they saw no one else.
To Leahcima, Tremante-Pelham asked if she spent a lot of time with Sha’hiim. Leahcima said she did.
“Me and Sha’hiim,” an emotional Leahcima testified, “was best friends.”