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Welfare Officials Granted Custody of Child Same Day She Died

January 24, 1989

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) _ A mother faces a murder charge in the malnutrition death of her 2 1/2 -year-old blind, deaf and retarded child who was found dead on the same day a judge had put her in the custody of the state.

Bessie M. Clayton, 23, of Oxford, was charged Monday in the death last week of Anginetta Clayton. She turned herself in Monday and was being held at the Lafayette County Jail in lieu of $50,000 bond.

Her lawyer, James Minor of Oxford, said Clayton would fight the charge, but declined to discuss the case.

Officials said the girl weighed less than 10 pounds. The average weight for a 30-month-old girl is 30 pounds, according to medical officials.

Alvin Chambliss, an Oxford attorney who appeared at Ms. Clayton’s bond hearing Monday, contended the Claytons were an impoverished family cut off from public medical, housing and food assistance.

″There are a lot of people to blame,″ Chambliss said. ″The system broke down. To blame the mother is a travesty.″

Linda Clayton, the woman’s sister, said the child had been sick since birth, had trouble eating and was unable to keep food down. She said the child had been fed on Jan. 17, the day she died, but didn’t have proper medication.

The girl lived with 13 other people in a mobile home owned by Linda Clayton.

Youth Court Referee William T. Sloan had given custody of Bessie Clayton’s five children to the state Department of Public Welfare on Jan. 17 and left physical custody with the mother, said Lafayette County Attorney Ed Roberts.

In most cases legal custody means the children remain at home and welfare officers monitor their condition.

During the custody hearing, Linda Clayton came to the Justice Court building to inform her sister that the child was sick. Court officers said Bessie Clayton could not leave, Linda Clayton said.

Roberts confirmed that Linda Clayton was not allowed to see her sister during the hearing. The child died before her mother arrived home.

After the death, Sloan issued an order giving the state temporary total custody of the other four children, Roberts said. He said it did not appear the other children were malnourished.

Another hearing is scheduled Jan. 31, he said.

County medical examiner Buddy Roy said an autopsy determined the child died of severe malnutrition and dehydration.