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Parents arraigned in girl's death<br> Falls couple who confined children in playpen face murder charges

A Niagara Falls couple who, while they slept, kept two of their young children caged in a playpen were arraigned Monday on murder charges after one of the children, a 2-year-old girl, died.

Nicole Colucci, 24, who is pregnant, and her husband, Randy Colucci Sr., 25, were indicted after Niagara Falls police turned over evidence they began collecting March 31 when they found the 2-year-old listless and near death inside a covered "Pack and Play" in the couple's 22nd Street home.

Both parents pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder before Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza.

The Coluccis also were charged with second-degree manslaughter and five counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

They are accused of "acting with inhumane indifference" in letting their daughter die of asphyxiation after she was left unattended for 17 hours March 30 and 31 in a urine-soaked playpen covered by a mattress, Deputy District District Attorney Holly E. Sloma said.

An 11-month-old boy who also was found in the 3-by-2-foot playpen survived, Sloma said.

"Essentially they were caging them," Sloma said of the parents.

The two children were put into the playpen at 7 p.m., and no one returned again until noon the next day, the prosecutor said.

The parents were home, authorities said, but were asleep for most of the period.

They called police when Randy Colucci discovered his daughter seriously injured.

"When we arrived on March 31," Falls police Capt. William M. Thomson said, "we found the Pack and Play with a twin mattress on top of it, and [the parents] had put a television set on top of that. The 2-year-old was not breathing."

"She tried crawling out, and we believe she caught her neck between the mattress and top railing of the crib," police Lt. Michael Trane said.

Carmen Colucci was taken to Women & Children's Hospital in Buffalo and was on life support until her death April 8, said Thomson, chief of detectives.

In court Monday afternoon, Sloma compared the portable playpen to a cage.

Three other children, ages 4, 6 and 9, also were in the house. Sloma told the judge that four of the children had lice and the house was filled with garbage. The children were turned over to county Child Protective Services.

A grand jury handed up its indictment Thursday.

The Coluccis lost another child in 2007 to sudden infant death syndrome, but police are not investigating that death as suspicious, Thomson said.

Sloma asked for $250,000 bail for each parent, but Sperrazza set bail at $75,000 each, and the couple were taken to the Niagara County Jail.

Both parents are unemployed and are being represented by a public defender.

Sloma said prosecutors have a strong case, including evidence and photographs of the scene.

In addition, she said, Nicole Colucci has refused to receive any prenatal care for any of her previous pregnancies, as well as her current pregnancy.

One of the photos, Sloma said, shows Carmen Colucci with a severe, untreated diaper rash.

Theresa Colucci, Randy Colucci's mother, defended her son and daughter-in-law as good parents, saying they put the mattress over the crib to protect Carmen from getting out and falling down the stairs.

"It was a tragic accident," she said, adding she and Nicole Colucci's parents fully support the young couple.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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