Homeless woman found guilty in son's starvation death

Posted: May 15, 2013

A Philadelphia jury today convicted a homeless woman of involuntary manslaughter in the December 2010 starvation death of one of her six children.

Tanya Williams, 34, requested tissue to dab her eyes in the minutes before the jury foreman read the verdict.

The verdict, rendered by the panel of eight women and four men on the third day of deliberations, was mixed but still will likely result in Williams receiving prison time when sentenced in June.

For the death of Quasir Alexander, who starved to death in a city-run homeless shelter two days before Christmas, the jury also convicted Williams of endangering the welfare of a child but voted against convicting her of first-degree murder, which the prosecution had sought.

For the near starvation of the boy's twin brother, Quamir, the jury convicted Williams of aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child but deadlocked on attempted murder.

The jury also deadlocked 11-1 in favor of convicting Williams on the more serious charge of third-degree murder for Quasir's death. A decision on whether to re-try Williams on that charge will be made at a later date, said Assistant District Attorney Peter Lim.

He said Williams faces a maximum term of 22 to 44 years in state prison when sentenced by Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina on June 28.

Defense attorney Gregory Pagano argued that Williams, who has a low IQ, did not intentionally hurt her sons. "Obviously, it was negligence, gross negligence . . . She thought they were fine and well, as well as they could be," he said, noting that the twins were born premature.

The hospital released the twins too soon after their October 2010 births and a social worker said they were fine just 36 hours before Quasir's death, Pagano said.

That social worker and her supervisor from Lutheran Children and Family Service were fired and the city, which hired the non-profit, launched an investigation.

"What's she to think if everyone else is telling her the kids are fine?" Pagano said.

Lim said he had sought a first-degree-murder conviction, which would carry a sentence of life without parole, because “the process of starvation is a long and painful process. Every day that the defendant did not feed her children was a conscious decision that she made.”

Four of Williams’ surviving children are in foster care, and Quasir’s surviving twin brother, Quamir, has been adopted.

Williams and her six children had been living at the Traveler's Aid shelter in West Philadelphia and she had nearly completed a 90-day program funded by the city to help her with parenting skills. Lutheran Children and Family Service had a city contract to run the program.

Richard Gitlen, executive director of the Lutheran agency, said yesterday that “the verdict brings closure to this tragedy. Our hearts go out to the Williams family.”


On Twitter: @MensahDean

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