A 47-year-old Florida woman avoided a first-degree murder charge by pleading guilty to felony aggravated manslaughter in the starvation death of her 13-month-old daughter in 2016.
In accepting the plea deal Monday, Kristen Meyer also agreed to testify for the prosecution against her husband, Alejandro Aleman, 42, the Palm Beach Postreported. He is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Tayla Aleman, and faces the death penalty if convicted.
Meyer's deal included a 23-year prison sentence, with credit for the four years she's been in jail. The coronavirus pandemic delayed her trial, which had been set to begin in March.
The child died April 1, 2016, court records show. She was the youngest of 10 children sharing a home investigators said had “deplorable living conditions.”
Meyer told investigators she was feeding the child when she stopped breathing. They took her to a hospital where she was pronounced dead. The child weighed 7 pounds, 3 ounces, which was 2 pounds under her birth weight, according to court records.
An emergency room doctor called Tayla’s starvation death the worst he had seen, the newspaper reported.
Doctors said the child also suffered from E. coli, multiple strains of influenza, the start of pneumonia and a bacteria known to cause skin infections.
The family came to Florida from suburban Chicago, and had nine other children — ages 15, 13, 11, 8, 7, 6, 5, 3, and 2 — when the child died. Meyer had an 11th child in September 2016.
The Department of Children and Families had been following the family since 2013 and an internal review concluded “there were missed opportunities” to intervene, records show. Following the child's death, the agency gave case supervisors more authority to involve themselves when a child is at a high risk of being either abused or neglected.
Investigators made their last visit to the family when Tayla was 9 months old.
After reviewing the years of files on the family, the agency concluded Aleman had an “obvious power and control over the family.” He was always uncooperative during investigations and prohibited his wife and children from speaking to investigators without his permission.
As part of the deal, Meyer will seek mental health treatment in prison, public defender Carey Haughwout told the judge. Prosecutors dropped charges of aggravated child abuse and animal cruelty that Meyer had been facing.
Assistant State Attorney Reid Scott told the judge that while Aleman had “the lion’s share of culpability,” Meyer “had a duty to care for the child," the newspaper reported.