Defense attorneys for a Niagara Falls couple accused of murder in the death of their 22-month-old daughter are trying to keep the couple's child care techniques out of their trial, now set for Jan. 31.
In Niagara County Court Friday, Joseph Terranova, attorney for Randy Colucci Sr., accused the prosecution of trying to portray Randy, 25, and his wife, Nicole Colucci, 24, as "a white trash family."
Bringing in testimony about problems in the Colucci household that weren't included in the indictment would expand the case, he said.
"It should not be expanded to show that these are just bad people who shouldn't have children," Terranova said.
The murder charge accuses the Coluccis of "depraved indifference to human life" in the way they treated 22-month-old Carmen, leading to her death.
About noon March 31, Randy Colucci discovered Carmen's neck trapped between the top rail of a playpen and a mattress, weighed down by a TV set, that had been placed over the playpen to keep Carmen and her 1-year-old brother Randy Jr. from climbing out.
Carmen died April 8 after being taken off life support in Women & Children's Hospital.
In an evidentiary hearing Friday, Niagara Falls Detective Patricia McCune testified that staffers at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center called her March 31 to report finding "abrasions and blistering around [Carmen's] genital area."
Assistant District Attorney Robert A. Zucco said the injuries were from "extreme diaper rash."
Zucco charged that 9-year-old Shawna Starcher, the oldest of what at the time was a family of five children and stepchildren, had become the primary caregiver for her siblings. Nicole Colucci had another daughter Aug. 25.
"[Carmen] had open lesions from diaper rash from having a 9-year-old do it. That's indifference," Zucco said. "She caught her head because Shawna was the one to make sure she was safe before [Shawna] goes to school."
Among the topics the defense lawyers want suppressed are the 2007 death of one of the couple's other children from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and another incident similar to the one March 31.
In that incident, Shawna rescued Carmen from potential death, Terranova said.
Last month in court, Zucco accused the Coluccis of hitting their children with sticks and duct-taping their legs together. The house on 22nd Street in Niagara Falls, also home to Randy's parents, allegedly was strewn with garbage and animal waste.
"The prosecutor is trying to show this was a white trash family and that a level of neglect permeated the household," Terranova said.
Zucco said that the two children were placed in the playpen at 7 p.m. March 30 and ignored until noon the next day while the adult Coluccis slept.
"If they had shown some care for this child even after putting her in a potentially lethal situation, this homicide, this death, would not have happened. That's the crux of depraved indifference," Zucco said.
Nicole's lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Christopher A. Privateer, said the SIDS death of Sebastian Colucci should be out of bounds.
"It's apparently an attempt to assign fault to my client for the death," Privateer said.
McCune testified that Nicole told her that Carmen woke up about 10:30 a.m. March 31 and came downstairs on her own to have breakfast before going back up to nap.
McCune said she didn't buy it. "I said, 'She just came downstairs from bed. Why would she need a nap?' I told her to be honest with me." That was when Nicole conceded the children hadn't been checked in 17 hours.
However, McCune said the whole interview was conducted March 31 without reading Nicole her rights. McCune claimed she didn't have to do so because she didn't consider Nicole a suspect at the time.
Officer Sanya Drinks-Brudes, the first to arrive at the home, said she found Theresa Colucci, the baby's grandmother, performing CPR on Carmen on the dining room table. McCune testified that Nicole Colucci told her of changing Carmen's diaper while CPR was going on.
Sperrazza reserved decision on admissibility of the uncharged accusations and said a hearing on Nicole's statements to police must continue Jan. 4.