Child died in hot car; judge grants probation
A mother who admitted leaving her child in a hot car — a girl who struggled for life before succumbing to the 120-degree interior heat — begged for mercy Friday and received it.
"Do I need to be in jail? I don't know," said Nakia Burgess, 29, told a Fulton County judge. "All I ask is that you be lenient, and let me have some kind of life."
Superior Court Judge Constance Russell sentenced Burgess to five years' probation in the Oct. 2, 2002, death of 3-year old Asan'te. Burgess had already been convicted of voluntary manslaughter and child deprivation after the Down's syndrome child perished in the back seat of her mother's Nissan Maxima at the top of a Buckhead parking deck.
At one point during the lengthy sentencing hearing, the defendant ran sobbing from the courtroom as a pathologist described the girl's final minutes.
Dr. Harry Lee Wilson, a pediatric pathologist from El Paso, Texas, who reviewed the autopsy results, described scratches on Asan'te's face as typical of what he would expect on a child suffering from the intense heat. The girl, he said, "was in intense agitation, clawing at herself, writhing in discomfort from the heat."
Burgess did not testify but asked the court for mercy in an emotional voice that sometimes broke.
"It was careless and stupid, I don't know what I was thinking," she said.
"Now, I have images of [Asan'te] clawing at her neck and nothing can take those images away," Burgess said.
Russell also gave the mother a concurrent year's probation for misdemeanor reckless conduct. Burgess must attend parenting classes as a condition of the probation.
Burgess could have received a maximum 15 years in prison.
Prosecutor Lee Young Williams urged a 10-year sentence, with six to serve and the remainder on probation.
"She left her 3-year-old in a car that became an oven, and the child suffered terribly," Williams argued.
Defense attorney Phinia Aten urged Russell to give probation with prison time, arguing that Burgess "made a bad decision, but is not a bad person" and has turned around a desperate, dysfunctional life where she attempted to balance jobs and her daughter because she couldn't afford day care.
Burgess is attending school to become a nursing assistant and making high grades, Aten said. "She has the beginning of a support system now, a church that helps her and, hopefully, healing can take place."
Prison would "kill these seeds of support that are sprouting to help her," Aten said. "She's been punished beyond comprehension, taunted as a baby killer, humiliated by [the child's death]. She walks in the prison of her mind every day."
Russell, in giving the young mother probation, said Burgess made an "undeniably stupid decision" in balancing the obligations of work and child care that sometimes results in tragedy, and sometimes not.
In announcing the sentence, the judge said Burgess did not attempt to justify her behavior and has accepted responsibility.
Burgess' attorney said her client has been racked with guilt about her daughter's death and was initially suicidal.
A transcriptionist in the Tower Walk office complex at Piedmont and Peachtree roads, Burgess normally took Asan'te to day care, but Aten said the day care arrangements had fallen through that day, and Burgess took Asan'te to work with her.
Aten said Burgess, who has had another daughter since Asan'te's death, had moved to Atlanta from New Jersey and never thought of the danger of heat on a fall day in Atlanta.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said "when it comes to cases involving children, Judge Russell hands out sentences as tough as anywhere in the country. Therefore, while I might not agree with the outcome in this case, I respect the decision Judge Russell has made."
Dear Ms. Burgess, you murdering piece of shit:
You do not deserve lenience. Do you know what you deserve? You deserve to be locked in a car. On the hottest day of the year. And roasted alive.
It's what you did to your daughter.
Your three-year-old daughter, who died slowly and horribly, because you locked her in and went on your merry way to work. Your daughter, who probably spent the last hour of her life crying out for the mother who did not love her to come and save her.
You had a hard time listening to the description of how your daughter died? Good. Let's put that on tape and play it for you on continuous loop. You didn't like the pictures of the claw marks on your daughter's face and neck as she desperately tried to escape being burned alive? Good. Let's paper the interior of the car with pictures. So that as you die in agony, you don't forget. So you remain constantly aware of what you did to your little girl.
And that's still less than you deserve. I can only hope that whatever hell you go to gives you exactly what you deserve. And then some.
Very truly yours,
A mother who loves her child.
PS: Dear attorney and judge: What the fuck is wrong with you? How can you sleep at night?