Gloria Nelligan admitted to police that she hit her grandson with a back scratcher a handful of times, but also told them that the boy had been acting out and hurting himself in the days and weeks leading up to his death.
The account comes from an interview she gave to police beginning about 12 hours after Sha’hiim Nelligan was found unresponsive in her home. Paramedics were called to the scene but were unable to revive him.
The statement, entered into evidence in Nelligan’s murder trial Monday morning, was given before Sha’hiim’s cause of death was known.
“I noticed Sha’hiim was not doing the push-ups so I told him to do them,” Nelligan’s statement reads.
After one of her daughters went upstairs, Nelligan then punished Sha’hiim with a back scratcher. “I grabbed the back scratcher and I bent him over the chair and I hit him three times on his rear end,” the statement reads.
Nelligan, 43, is standing trial on one count each of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in the Feb. 23 death of the 8-year-old boy, of whom she had custody.
Prosecutors say Nelligan beat her grandson so severely that 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 has contended 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. Though she consented to a second interview the next day, after autopsy results were known to police, her account changed little, her attorney has said.
The entire interview that day and the follow-up interview the next day were recorded by a police video system. Both interviews, about eight hours in total, were played beginning late Monday morning. They were expected to continue today.
The start of her questioning was played Monday morning. In that, she outlined what she said happened. She appeared calm through her initial account, becoming emotional when she reached the point where she found Sha’hiim unresponsive.
The written statement was prepared at the conclusion of the first day’s interview, typed up by Detective John Hotaling as the video recorded and signed by Nelligan after she read it over.
Nelligan’s defense attorney, Mark Caruso, objected to the statement being entered into evidence, saying the video should speak for itself. He also noted something Nelligan said in the video had happened on the stairs wasn’t included in the statement.
Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago accepted the document into evidence, noting that Nelligan had signed it. The judge also noted that the video was expected to be played and she would see that, and so be able to see discrepancies between the video and the statement. The trial is being held solely before Drago, without a jury at the defense’s request.
Sha’hiim was being punished for stealing a pack of gum Feb. 19, Nelligan told Hotaling. Shortly after, she told Hotaling she made Sha’hiim go to the kitchen and turn around. She hit him once with the back scratcher. They then returned to the store for Sha’hiim to tell what he had done.
After returning home, she made him write an essay. He made attempts to write the essay through Friday, but wouldn’t write what exactly he did wrong, the statement reads.
She confronted him about it that Friday, finally making him run up and down the stairs about five times. After he refused the essay again, she made him do jumping jacks. She then had him do push-ups.
“I then at this time took Sha’hiim and put him over my knee and I smacked him with my open hand on his rear end” around 2 p.m. Friday, the statement reads.
By 5 p.m., Sha’hiim had still not done his push-ups. She recalled putting one of her daughters in charge of watching him. But he still didn’t do them.
That resulted in another strike from Nelligan with the back scratcher, her statement reads.
“When I walked into the other room, Sha’hiim was bent over the dining room chair waiting for me to beat him,” Nelligan’s statement reads. “I then walked in and told him to bend over my knee and I hit him with the back scratcher.”
Sha’hiim’s push-up attempts continued into the evening. At one point, he smashed his own face into the floor, causing his lip to bleed. Sha’hiim started playing in the blood, her statement reads.
She then took him up to the shower to wash off his face. There, Sha’hiim fell in the tub as she looked away. She took him out and placed him on the floor to check him. He then smacked himself backward into the tub.
“He was trying to hit himself on whatever he could,” Nelligan’s statement reads.
She then took him to his bedroom and told him to go to sleep, wrapping a cold shirt around his face.
In the morning, she had him take a second shower. This time, he was wobbling. She grabbed him, thinking he would fall. Back in his bedroom, she gave him his pills and milk. A sandwich was also brought up.
She left, but Sha’hiim fell from the bed to the floor. She returned to ultimately see Sha’hiim fall to the floor and seemingly try to hit his head on a hamper. They put him back in bed, left, and then heard another thump. Nelligan returned to find Sha’hiim unresponsive on his bed.
She thought maybe he was choking on a pill, but found nothing in his mouth. She then started chest compressions, moving Sha’hiim to the floor, and yelled for someone to call 911.
Nelligan remains in custody. Her trial continues today.