TAMPA — Prosecutors have dropped an aggravated manslaughter charge against Danielle McCleary, a 24-year-old mother who told authorities she watched her boyfriend bind, bundle and beat her 2-year-old daughter to death.
They did so to get her to testify in Kenneth G. Lopez's first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse case.
As part of the deal, McCleary pleaded guilty Tuesday to child neglect, not knowing what sentence a judge will impose after her work with the prosecution is done. The maximum she faces is 15 years in prison. If she does not cooperate, prosecutors can reinstate the manslaughter charge.
McCleary stood before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe in ripped jeans and a sweat shirt and listened to a prosecutor read what happened to 2-year-old Gabrielle Randel in the early morning hours of March 8, 2009:
Gabrielle was fussy and crying when Lopez allegedly tied her hands behind her back, wrapped her in blankets and sat her down on the ground. He put a karate pad over her, the prosecutor said. And he beat that karate pad until he noticed the girl was silent.
McCleary looked down and cried.
"She failed to intervene on behalf of her child," prosecutor Michael Sinacore said.
Authorities said the girl suffered blunt trauma to her forehead, multiple marks and bruises to her entire body, a hand mark on her body and serious trauma to her genitalia.
McCleary called 911 after they realized the girl had stopped breathing. When authorities arrived, they found McCleary's second child, a 3-year-old boy, with the word "dumba--" scribbled on his forehead. A sheriff's investigator said McCleary admitted to writing it.
She never faced a charge for that.
Her attorney says McCleary has surrendered the rights to her son, who now lives in Texas with his father. She lives with her parents and two younger sisters and is in therapy.
Lopez could get life in prison if convicted.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.