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Australians guilty of starving daughter, 7, to death

world Updated: Jun 23, 2009 14:30 IST

AFP
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An Australian couple were on Tuesday convicted of starving their autistic seven-year-old daughter to death after a harrowing trial which heard the girl weighed just nine kilograms (20 pounds) when she died.

Prosecutors said the emaciated girl had resembled a Holocaust victim, while ambulance workers called to the scene said she looked "mummified" shortly after her November 2007 death in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney.

A jury deliberated for almost a week before finding the girl's mother, 35, guilty of murder and convicting her 47-year-old father of manslaughter, national news agency AAP reported.

The pair, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had pleaded not guilty to murder.

Several medical experts testified the girl suffered the most severe case of malnutrition they had seen, saying her head looked like a skull wrapped in skin and that her muscles were wasted due to long-term neglect.

The mother's barrister Dennis Stewart described his client as a prescription drug addict unable to cope with day-to-day matters who had believed she could nurse her daughter back to health.

He said he her actions were "foolish, irresponsible, negligent to the point of attracting criminal results" but did not warrant a murder conviction -- an argument the jury rejected.

The father's defence was that his wife was the only person who could feed and care for their daughter because of her autism, and the mother had never indicated there was a problem with the girl.

The mother will be sentenced on Wednesday and the father in six weeks. Justice Robert Allan Hulme offered the jurors counselling, AAP said.