An East Baton Rouge Parish jury deliberated just 15 minutes Thursday before unanimously finding a St. Gabriel woman guilty in a child cruelty case involving her young stepson.
The boy, who will turn 5 in December, was rushed to a Baton Rouge hospital in August 2009 at the age of 20 months after ingesting fingernail polish remover.
Medical personnel testified at Charlotte Staggs’ trial that the boy was malnourished and dehydrated, had bruises and scrapes on his body and a distinctive burn mark from a fork on his right thigh.
The jury of six women and six men convicted Staggs, 25, of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile. She faces up to 40 years in prison. She previously rejected the state’s offer to plead guilty in exchange for a 25-year sentence.
State District Judge Mike Erwin ordered Staggs to be held in Parish Prison until he sentences her Nov. 7.
Several jurors turned their heads and smiled as the boy was brought into the back of the courtroom after the verdict was announced. He has since been adopted by his grandparents, who said the family was happy with the verdict. The boy’s mother died in the summer of 2008.
The boy’s father, Steven Staggs, 29, faces trial as well on a charge of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile. A trial date has not been set.
Charlotte Staggs’ attorney, Stephen Sterling, told the jury in his closing argument that she is not perfect but that does not make her “an abuser, a neglecter, a criminal.”
“Justice can be done, or injustice can be done,” Sterling said, asking jurors to find Staggs innocent.
“This is not about the injustice to Charlotte Staggs,” prosecutor Charles Grey countered. “It’s about the injustice to (the boy).”
Staggs testified earlier Thursday that she has never hurt any of her children, including her stepson, and did not leave the blistered imprint of a fork on his leg.
“No sir. I could not do that. I am positive,” Staggs said in response to a question from Sterling.
“I do everything within the best of my ability to protect my children. I would die for them.”
Staggs, who acknowledged being bipolar, also testified she never gave preferential treatment to her two biological children over her stepson.
“In my eyes, (he) will always be my son,” she said. “I do not believe in that (preferential treatment).”
Staggs testified she left the boy alone in a room with her bowl of hot noodles for “a split second,” then heard a “blood-curdling scream.”
When she returned to the room, the child was holding the fork near his leg, Staggs said.
“I did not do this. I could not intentionally hurt a child,” she said to Sterling.
Staggs told the jury she was sexually molested and raped between the ages of 7 and 13, used marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy in her teen years, and also would cut herself.