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Obese girl's mother guilty of misdemeanor child abuse

January 9, 1998
Web posted at: 4:22 p.m. EST (2122 GMT)

MARTINEZ, California (CNN) -- A California woman whose 13-year-old daughter Christina weighed 680 pounds when she died of congestive heart failure in 1996 was found guilty Friday of misdemeanor child abuse.

Marlene Corrigan could get up to a year behind bars at her sentencing February 27. She was acquitted of felony child abuse, punishable by up to six years in prison.

When Judge Richard Arnason issued the verdict after a five-day non-jury trial, Corrigan showed little emotion, then slipped out a side door without comment.

Arnason opted for the less serious misdemeanor conviction on the grounds that passive, rather than active, misconduct helped trigger Christina's death.

Christina's nude body -- covered with bedsores and feces -- was found on her mother's living room floor, police said.

The defense chose to have the case heard without a jury in the belief that the judge would remain objective in the face of the harrowing details of Christina's death.

Christina and her mother  

The case attracted wide attention, creating a forum for opinions on obesity.

Prosecutors insisted they were not claiming that raising a fat child is a crime. Instead, they said Corrigan was charged, because of the condition of her daughter's body, especially the bedsores.

"The felony charges are based on the condition of the child's body, not the size of the child's body," prosecutor Bryan Haynes said.

But Corrigan's attorney and some activists for obese peoples' rights disagreed.

"This is a case about fat prejudice. It's absolutely about that, a prejudice we don't even know we have," defense attorney Michael Cardoza said.

Corrigan, a single, working mother caring for her dying parents, had said she did everything she could to help her daughter reduce her weight, and that she was "heartbroken" when her daughter died.
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Correspondent Susan Reed and Reuters contributed to this report.


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