A Detroit woman charged with fatally stabbing her daughter three days before the child's ninth birthday pleaded not guilty to a murder charge Thursday as authorities scrambled to determine why the girl and four siblings were not removed from their home weeks ago.
Police responding to a call from neighbors found Tameria Greene bleeding from the chest Sunday on the floor of her family's apartment. She was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The Michigan Department of Human Services said it tried to remove Tameria and her siblings from the home as far back as 2010, but its requests were denied. The most recent petition was filed the day after Thanksgiving, alleging Semeria Greene, 26, had abused her daughter, who had bites on her hand, forearm and face.
"DHS continued to provide court-ordered counseling services to the family as well as conducting in-home visits, the last of which occurred only two days before Tameria's death. We share the grief felt by her loved ones and her community," director Maura Corrigan said in a statement.
Richard Smart III, a referee in the Family Division of Wayne County court, held a hearing on Nov. 23 that lasted just minutes. He recommended no removal and noted that the father of some of Tameria's siblings had moved into the home "to provide protection and supervision," according to records. Judge Lisa Neilson signed the order.
Five days later, another referee, Leslie Graves, held a pretrial hearing. She set a trial on the state's petition and noted the children remained at home. Judge Frank Szymanski signed that order.
Szymanski told The Associated Press that he had no direct role in the Greene case but was deeply troubled by the girl's death.
"I just looked at the file. ... I want to get to the bottom of this. I'm concerned, absolutely," he said. "I need to see the transcript. We remove kids all the time."
Referees preside over hearings in Michigan's local Juvenile Courts and make recommendations in abuse and neglect cases. Like full-fledged judges, they are attorneys. Judges, however, retain the right to intervene.
Graves declined to comment, as did Thomasine Jefferson, an attorney who represented Greene in the child-welfare matter. Messages seeking comment were left with Smart and Neilson.
Greene remains in jail without bail on the felony murder charge, which is the equivalent of first-degree murder. She faces life in prison without parole if convicted. She also is charged with first-degree child abuse.
Defense attorney Cornelius Pitts suggested Greene should undergo a mental-health exam. Magistrate Steve Lockhart said the issue could be raised at the next hearing, on Jan. 16.
"It would appear there is a serious question to the emotional and mental state," Pitts told reporters.
Tameria's brothers, ages 1 to 7, now are in foster care.
Her death came at the end of a particularly brutal year in Detroit. By Thanksgiving, the city had surpassed the 344 criminal homicides reported in all of 2011. Mayor Dave Bing said there were 386 slayings in 2012.
"We've lost respect for each other. We've lost respect for life," Bing said Thursday.
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