Stepfather guilty of manslaughter in Nixzmary's death

BROOKLYN - A jury found Cesar Rodriguez guilty Tuesday in the death of his 7-year-old stepdaughter, Nixzmary Brown, in a case that highlighted troubles with the city's Administration for Children's Services.After four days of deliberations, jurors found Rodriguez guilty of first-degree manslaughter, unlawful imprisonment, criminal possession of a weapon and endangering the welfare of a child for the January 2006 death.

The jury found him not guilty of second-degree murder, which could be considered a win for the defense because murder carries a stiffer penalty.

A spokesperson for the victim's grandmother wept in the courtroom as the verdict was read, saying that she was upset that Rodriguez was not found guilty of murder.Prosecutors said Rodriguez killed the girl after she "stole" yogurt from the fridge in their Brownsville apartment. The jury saw gruesome pictures of the battered girl, who authorities said had the average weight of a 4-year-old. She was tied up and had missed many days of school.

The defense argued that Brown's mother, Nixzaliz Santiago, might have struck the fatal blow that a medical examiner attributed to the girl's death, along with child abuse syndrome. Santiago goes on trial next.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Schwartz also portrayed the victim as a violent and uncontrollable "little Houdini."

Rodriguez faces a maximum of 25 years in prison for manslaughter and is scheduled to be sentenced April 3.

The case caused reform in the ACS, which is charged with protecting New York City kids. Caseworkers allegedly dropped the ball after officials at the girl's school reported that she repeatedly missed classes.AP wire reports contributed to this story.

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