RICHMOND - In a courtroom filled with members of fat support groups, an El Cerrito mother pleaded not guilty to child endangerment cjarges relating to the death of her 680-pound daughter last November at age 13.
Marlene Marie Corrigan, 48, a federal employee, declined comment following the quick arraignment Thursday at Bay Municipal Court.
She faces a maximum penalty of six years in state prison. Following the court session however, Brian Haynes, Contra Costa County deputy district attorney, said that felony probabtion and possibly a jail term would be a more probable punishment.
A preliminary hearing is slated for Sept. 22.
Christina Corrigan, who was 5-foot-3, died Nov. 19 of congestive heart failure due to morbid obesity, the county coroner determined.
Haynes said Thursday the felony charge was leveled against Christina's mother "not for overfeeding the child or participating in her weight gain, but (because of) the condition the girl was living in. She was lying in her own feces and urine for an extended time with horrific bed sores. And, according to the coroner's report, insects were feeding upon her."
Haynes said that Christina had not seen a doctor since 1992, and had not been weighed since she was 8 when she recorded 272 pounds.
But San Francisco attorney Michael Cardoza, who is representing the girl's mother, said that law enforcement officers are searching for a scapegoat in the tragedy.
"You wonder how a little grl gets to be that size," Cardoza said. "The natural reaction is to blame someone... to blame the mother. But why do we have to blame anyone? I believe in my heart it will not be a guilty verdict. She couldn't do more for this child."
He said that Chrstina suffered fromn grand mal seizures when she was a year old and was medicated with phenobarbital until age 4. After that, Cardoza said, the child steadily put on weight.
"There are a lot of things our society doesn't understand about overweight people," he said. "If any good comes of this, it may be that we take a closer look at the problems of overweight people."
Hoping for the same goal, members of at least four organizations, devoted to increasing acceptance of the overweight, attended the arraignment to offer Corrigan emotional support.
"We don't want this case to become a precedent, that someone can be charged with abuse because their child is overweight," said Teresa Colter, 41, a Concord resident who helped launch Fat and Terrific last year. The group provides information on "fat friendly" medical care and resources for personal hygiene products and clothing.
"I'm concerned about this case. I dont' want the state taking fat children away from their parents and putting them on forced starvation diets," said Marilyn Wann, editor of Fatso, a 4-year-old San Francisco publication with a circulation of 2,000. "I wish we could have been there for Christina. This world is very difficult for supersized people."