Friday’s opening of the trial of three people in connection with the 2006 starvation death of Danieal Kelly -- the 14-year-old girl with cerebral palsy found dead in her mother’s fetid West Philadelphia apartment -- brought one surprise: Daniel J. Kelly, 40, the girl’s absentee father, will testify in his own defense.
Under the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, no person on trial on criminal charges can be forced to testify and the jury would be instructed by the judge – in this case Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart – that not testifying may not be held against them. But if they do testify, they are fair game for questioning by the opposing counsel. Their past, within certain guidelines, is open for exposure to the jury.
Kelly is charged with one count of child endangerment. Prosecutors allege that he left Danieal, who could not care for herself or move except in a wheelchair, in the care of his ex-wife though he knew she had neglected the girl in the past.
Kelly’s attorney, Earl G. Kauffman, told the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury in his opening statement that Andrea Kelly alone was responsible for Danieal’s tortured death, starved to the point that she weighed just 42 pounds when she died – the weight of a five-year-old. Andrea Kelly took pains to secret Danieal and her seven siblings and undermined every attempt of her ex-husband to visit and check up on their disabled daughter’s welfare.
But Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber, in her opening to the 12 jurors, raised the stakes for Kelly and his defense. She said the evidence would show that Daniel Kelly was never a father who cared about Danieal’s welfare.
It’s a claim that challenges Kelly’s role in what both sides say was the one, brief positive period in Danieal’s life – the time between 1996 and 2003 when Danieal and her brother Daniel Jr. lived with their father and girlfriend Kathleen John, first in Pittsburgh and then in Arizona.
It was in Arizona, Selber told the jury, that Danieal first went to a school specializing in disabled children, a school in which she got daily physical and occupational therapy and thrived. But that was John’s doing, “the only parent-figure who ever showed love and cared for Danieal,” Selber said.
When the relationship between Kelly Sr. and John soured and the children returned to Kelly’s custody, the care and schooling of the children ended, Selber said.
The prospect of Daniel Kelly’s testimony could be the first real window into what went on in the Kelly family. What’s more interesting is that Kauffman said John will testify for the defense.
Andrea Kelly, 41, pleaded guilty in 2009 to third-degree murder and is serving 20 to 40 years in prison.
In addition to Daniel Kelly, two others are on trial. Dana Poindexter, 54, was an intake social worker for the city Department of Human Services who Selber said ignored five reports about Danieal’s mistreatment. Poindexter is charged with child endangerment, recklessly endangering another person and perjury.
Mickal Kamuvaka, 62, was cofounder and chief administrator of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., a now-defunct private firm DHS hired to monitor the health and safety of Danieal and her siblings. Kamuvaka is charged with involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment, conspiracy and counts involving an alleged cover-up of the circumstances surrounding Danieal’s death.
Defense attorneys for Poindexter and Kamuvaka did not say if their clients would testify. But both told the jury that their defenses would blame just one person for Danieal’s death: her mother.