The Danieal Kelly jury connects the dots

Mickal Kamuvaka never met Danieal Kelly, the 14-year-old with cerebral palsy who starved to death in 2006 in her mother’s squalid West Philadelphia apartment.

Kamuvaka was a founder and chief administrator of a now-defunct company, MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., which got paid by the Philadelphia Department of Human Services to provide in-house monitoring and other services to children deemed at risk of abuse or neglect. The city paid MultiEthnic $3.5 million between 2001 and 2007, when the contract was ended after Danieal’s death.

That did not stop a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury from finding her guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Danieal’s death, as well as child endangerment and reckless endangerment.

So how did the jury connect Kamuvaka, 62, and involuntary manslaughter?

As Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart explained to the jury, the legal definition of involuntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania is causing the death of another person when “grossly negligent conduct is a direct and substantial factor causing that death.”

But conduct, the judge continued, does not only mean an affirmative act; it can also mean “a failure to act on a legal duty to act.”

Like many legal definitions, it’s one that nonlawyers sometimes have trouble with the first time around. In fact, the Kelly’s jury’s six men and six women came back three times asking Minehart to repeat the explanation.

Kamuvaka turned to friends and smiled broadly after the first time the jury asked the judge to redefine the term, and her attorney, Joshua E. Scarpello, said later that it made him hope the jury might acquit her of the charge.

“The only reason she went to trial is she didn’t want to admit she killed anybody and that’s what that charge means,” Scarpello said.

According to testimony, Kamuvaka’s job included directly supervising a MultiEthnic social worker named Julius Juma Murray, 54, who in April 2006 was assigned to go to the two-bedroom West Philadelphia apartment where Danieal lived with her mother and eight siblings.

The problem, witnesses testified, was that Murray was not going to the Kelly house. He was not alone. Employee “ghost visits” were a recurring problem at MultiEthnic and subject of management meetings, said MultiEthnic cofounder and quality assurance supervisor Manuelita Buenaflor.

Kamuvaka, according to trial testimony, did nothing about Murray’s job performance until Aug. 4, 2006, when Danieal’s 42-pound, bedsore-ridden body was found. Then she convened what prosecutors called a “forgery fest” to paper the Kelly case file to make it appear Murray was doing his job. This conduct led the jury to find her guilty of a host of counts involving the attempted coverup.

Kamuvaka was not new to social work or its challenges. Born in poverty in the Central African Republic, she earned a degree in social work and psychology in 1976 and a doctorate in social work from the University of Pennsylvania.

But her resume did not protect her from failing to supervise her workers. As Buenaflor sadly testified about Danieal’s death: “It was a matter of time.”

Buenaflor, 68, pleaded guilty to fraud charges involving the cover-up and Murray pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter involving Danieal’s death and fraud in the cover-up. Both are serving prison terms.

Kamuvaka was the only one of the three defendants on trial charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Dana Poindexter, 54, a former DHS intake social worker, was charged and found guilty of child endangerment and recklessly endangering another person for failing to investigate DHS hotline reports that Danieal was being neglected.

And Danieal’s absentee father, Daniel Kelly Sr., was found guilty of child endangerment.

Like involuntary manslaughter, both endangerment counts involve elements of violating a duty of care through conduct or negligence. And, despite the sound of the words, in Pennsylvania involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment are misdemeanors; child endangerment is a felony.

Kamuvaka, Poindexter and Kelly will all be sentenced by Judge Minehart on Sept. 6.