Did she starve child?
The case... WASTING AWAY Why did her parents stand by and watch their girl die?
When little LeaSophie became a big sister, she struggled to get used to the idea. Like lots of young children, she found it difficult to understand that she suddenly had to share the attention of her parents Nicole and Stefan with a new baby.
According to her mother Nicole, Lea-sophie became increasingly difficult.
She was only 5, but her mum said that she started being stubborn, aggressive and rebellious.
She’d throw her toys around, empty out cupboards in a temper.
And, as part of her cry for attention, she also started refusing to eat.
Most parents would react to such behaviour with love and compassion.
But Nicole, 24, and Stefan, 26, weren’t most parents.
Over the next two months, in the family’s attic apartment in the German city of Schwerin, Lea-sophie slowly starved to death, turning to skin and bone.
As starvation and dehydration took hold, she became unable to walk and spent all her time in bed.
Her skin turned grey and her hair started falling out.
Lea-sophie developed agonising bedsores that turned into bonedeep ulcers.
By early November 2007, LeaSophie’s body began to shut down and she went into a state of hibernation.
She was dying before their eyes, yet still her parents did nothing.
Until, on the morning of 20 November 2007, Stefan called an ambulance – having found Lea-sophie unresponsive.
She was rushed to hospital but there was nothing that could be done to save her and she died shortly afterwards.
A post-mortem found that Lea-sophie had died of starvation, dehydration and ulcers.
The coroner said her body had completely run out of fat reserves.
Her heart-muscle mass had shrunk by two-thirds and she weighed just 16lb – less than half the weight of a healthy 5-year-old.
The experienced doctors who fought to save Lea-sophie’s life were stunned by the extreme nature of her injuries.
‘We had never seen anything like that,’ said a senior consultant at the hospital.
Shocked at the state of the emaciated little girl, doctors called the police – and Nicole and Stefan were arrested, and charged with murder by omission, and child abuse. In April 2008, the couple faced trial at Schwerin District Court. The court heard about Lea-sophie’s extreme reaction to the birth of her baby brother. Her refusal to eat. But, instead of making meals to tempt the little girl into eating, her parents simply hadn’t fed her. At all. And, as they’d watched their child become thinner
Shocked, doctors called the police...
and weaker, still they’d continued to do nothing. The prosecution claimed that Nicole and Stefan’s actions were deliberately cruel. Were they some kind of twisted punishment for Lea-sophie’s stubbornness? The prosecution claimed that the couple showed no emotion or pity for their daughter – who, by then, spent every day in agony. They said that, rather than being horrified at their child’s distressing condition, Nicole and Stefan seemed to be relieved that the little girl was out of their way. Not causing them any problems with her attention-seeking. It left Nicole free to focus her time on her baby son and Stefan free to do what he loved most – playing violent video games. In fact, as his daughter faded and died before his eyes, unemployed Stefan was said to be busy trying to find a way to come up with some cash to buy a new TV. The court also heard how Nicole’s adoptive parents had desperately tried to help care for Lea-sophie.
But Nicole and Stefan had turned them away, retreating within their own four walls.
Child Services had even been called on numerous occasions. And yet, it seems, nothing was done.
Psychiatric assessments of Nicole and Stefan showed both had personality disorders.
Stefan was found to be deeply insecure, incapable of feeling empathy.
Meanwhile, experts claimed that Nicole was a ‘spoiled darling’ who had underdeveloped self-esteem.
According to the psychiatrists, when LeaSophie’s behaviour became challenging, her mother Nicole took it as a personal attack.
They said she decided to let her daughter fend for herself as punishment.
Yet Nicole and Stefan both denied murder. They claimed they hadn’t deliberately let their daughter starve to death.
‘We aren’t big eaters,’ Nicole said in her defence.
And she maintained that she’d loved Lea-sophie.
‘I was overwhelmed,’ she said. ‘I tried to persuade her to eat.’
Stefan, too, said they simply struggled to cope with a difficult situation.
‘We were not bad parents,’ he insisted.
The couple claimed they’d convinced themselves that, when Lea-sophie was hungry enough, she’d snap out of her silly mood and eat. They said that they’d hoped Lea-sophie was eating in secret to sustain herself.
Nicole said they’d briefly considered getting help from a doctor or health worker, but were too scared they’d get into trouble.
Or that their children would be taken into care.
So, instead, the couple had done nothing. Nicole and Stefan’s lawyers insisted the couple’s actions weren’t deliberately cruel.
They said that the devastated parents hoped until the end that their daughter would eat again.
It was clear that Nicole and Stefan had watched their daughter die a horrible, painful death.
But were they, as the prosecution claimed, pitiless and emotionless parents who had cruelly killed their daughter?
Or were they simply a couple who were overwhelmed, ashamed – too scared to seek help?
It was up to the judge to make the decision...
Nicole and Stefan had personality disorders
Lea-sophie’s parents, known only as Nicole G and Stefan T, were found guilty of child abuse and murder. They were each sentenced to 11 years, nine months in prison.
Judge Robert Piepel slammed them for denying their daughter help, which he said would have been so easy to get.
‘Both of the accused stood by and did nothing while their own flesh and blood wasted away in misery,’ he said.
Nicole continued to weep throughout her sentencing hearing and told the court she wanted to be a ‘good mother’.
She said her failure to seek help for her little girl was unforgivable.
‘I could have saved her,’ she sobbed.
Family flat The 5-year-old died in the attic apartment LEA-SOPHIE: A terrible end
MUM NICOLE: Spoilt or scared? DAD STEFAN: ‘We were not bad parents’
The couple in court