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Mother Faces Trial in Starvation Death of 7-Month-Old Twins

February 11, 1991

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A 23-year-old mother of seven was ordered Monday to stand trial for murder in the starvation deaths of her 7-month-old twin daughters on Christmas Eve.

Judge Francis Cosgrove dismissed first-degree murder charges against Marcelette Miller, but ordered that she face trial on charges of third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.

The dehydrated bodies of her daughters, Taneka and Tanisha, were found in Ms. Miller’s two-story row house, which was littered with piles of trash, empty liquor bottles and crack vials, police officer George Hicks testified.

″The best way I can describe it is that they were like skeletons with skin pulled over them,″ Hicks said at a one-day preliminary hearing at the Municipal Court.

Dr. Frederick Hellman, a senior fellow at the Medical Examiner’s Office. gave starvation and dehydration as the cause of death. ″They had been dead 15 to 20 hours″ when found by police, he said.

When the prosecution produced photographs of the inside of the home, Ms. Miller cupped her hands over her face and started crying. After a brief recess while she composed herself, Hicks continued with his testimony.

The officer said Ms. Miller told him the babies had been fed at 1 a.m. on Dec. 24 and were found dead late that morning. The police entered the house on the city’s southwest side in midafternoon after receiving a telephone call from Ms. Miller’s grandmother, he said.

Homicide Detective Arthur Mee testified that Ms. Miller said in a later interview that she had lied when she said she fed the infants that day. She told him the last time the infants ate was two days before the bodies were found when she gave them cereal and milk, Mee said.

Ms. Miller confessed she had smoked 10 caps of crack, the smokeable form of cocaine, in the 48 hours before the discovery, Mee testified. She said she had looked in on the twins once in a while but never noticed if they were breathing, Mee said.

″I love all my children and I miss the twins,″ the detective quoted her as saying.

Court-appointed defense attorney George Newman argued that Ms. Miller showed no malice toward the infants and never intended any harm. He said Ms. Miller, a ninth-grade dropout, didn’t know any better and the worst charges she should face are endangerment of children. The defense called no witnesses.

Prosecutor David Desiderio said Newman’s defense, that Ms. Miller was uneducated, was an insult to anyone with a ninth-grade education or less who has successfully raised children.

Ms. Miller was ″intentionally taking food out of her children’s mouths and putting it in her body in the form of crack,″ he said.

The judge agreed with Newman that no malice was shown and dismissed first- degree and second-degree murder charges. She was ordered held on $50,000 bail.

Ms. Miller’s other five children, ranging in age from 2 to 8 years, have placed in foster homes by the Department of Human Services.

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