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Germany

Parents of Starved Jessica Get Life Sentences

The German couple accused of starving their seven-year-old daughter to death have been sentenced to life in prison by a German court.

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A court drawing shows Jessica's parents in front of the judge

After a three-month trial, the Hamburg state court found Marlies Schmnidt, 36, and Burkhard Mintel, 50, guilty of abusing their daughter Jessica, who died in March of this year.

According to evidence presented at the trial, they kept their daughter in a cold, dark room and denied her food. She eventually died by choking on her own vomit. At the time of her death, Jessica, who was seven, weighed only 9.6 kilograms (21 pounds) -- what a normal three-year-old child would weigh.

"The accused cared for Jessica so inadequately that her basic physical and psychological development was not appropriate to her age," said the lead judge as the sentence was read. "This gross neglect was a slow process. The accused recognized this and simply accepted it."

The circumstances of Jessica's death shocked the nation and had many critically questioning how neither neighbors nor child-protection authorities apparently noticed anything amiss in the household.

Not an isolated case

In May, the city of Hamburg put together a special committee to study the instances of neglected children and to come up with new strategies to discover cases and intervene before they become serious or even fatal for children.

Recently, more cases have surfaced in Hamburg, including one in which a four-year-old girl and her two-year-old brother were found living among piles of trash and excrement. Another case involves the parents of two-and-a-half-year-old Michelle, who died of a brain edema after her parents failed to seek medical care.

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