A Philadelphia father accused of starving his 3-year-old disabled child to death is now facing the most serious murder charge, prosecutors announced Wednesday.
An expected preliminary hearing for the man and his wife was put on hold this morning as prosecutors upgraded charges against the malnourished girl’s father.
Carlos Rivera now faces a first-degree murder charge in the death of his 3-year-old twin, Nathalyz Rivera.
Authorities say the girl, who was severely disabled, weighed just 11 pounds and was covered in flea bites when she died.
Assistant District Attorney Richard Sax plans to seek the first-degree murder count because Rivera was allegedly home during the girl's final weeks.
"The Supreme Court has told us time and time again that with an infant or baby, it doesn't have to be one fatal blow (to be first-degree murder). It's a course of conduct," Sax said. "The baby Nathalyz was starved to death and had other injuries."
Police say that on Sept. 9, Rivera, 30, found Nathalyz unresponsive in the family's bug-infested home in the 7300 block of Sommers Road in the city's West Oak Lane neighborhood.
"Instead of going to police and the ambulance, he called the mother, who was over at a male friend's house," said Philadelphia Police Captain James Clark. "The mom and friend came to the house, took the baby, and transported her to the E.R. where she was pronounced. The medical examiner ruled this a homicide, manner of death, starvation."
Investigators say Nathalyz had Down Syndrome, was blind in one eye and had not seen a doctor in more than a year.
Rivera's defense lawyer, Bobby Hoof, calls him a caring father and said he will seek a mental-competency exam for his client. "I don't think the charges should be amended or upgraded," said Hoof, who just began representing Rivera. "He seems to be a stand-up guy. He loved his children."
Ramirez and Rivera were both initially charged with third-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, criminal conspiracy and child endangerment charges.
Charges were held against Ramirez.
"Where she was, and what she was doing during those last fateful weeks, is going to come out (in court)," said Sax, who said he could not yet disclose those details.
After Nathalyz's death, the other Rivera children -- ages 9, 8 and 7, along with Nathalyz's 3-year-old twin -- were checked at a hospital before being placed with the Department of Human Services.
More than 1,500 U.S. children die from abuse or neglect each year, most of them under age 4, though federal health and welfare officials do not break out the number of starvation deaths.
Philadelphia has seen its share of starvation deaths in recent years.
Danieal Kelly, who had cerebral palsy and used a wheelchair, weighed 42 pounds when she died at age 14 in Philadelphia in 2006, despite the family's enrollment in an intensive program for the city's most needy households.
Danieal's mother was convicted of third-degree murder, her father of felony neglect.
And 2-month-old Quasir Alexander weighed just over 4 pounds when he died days before Christmas 2010 at a Philadelphia homeless shelter, where his mother lived with her six children and received an array of social services.
Quasir's mother was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.