BY SCOTT SHIFREL and TRACY CONNOR DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
Wednesday, March 12th 2008, 6:40 PM
The lawyer for Nixzmary Brown's stepfather wrapped up his case today by telling jurors his client is a child abuser — but not a killer.
"Cesar Rodriguez is guilty of child abuse," Jeffrey Schwartz told a rapt jury in a packed Brooklyn courtroom, where the two-month trial is drawing to an end.
"But you have not seen any evidence in this courtroom that has proven beyond a reasonable doubt the murder or manslaughter charges."
As he did at the beginning of his case, Schwartz told the jury Nixzmary's mother, Nixzaliz Santiago, beat the 7-year-old to death on Jan. 11, 2006.
He opened his two-hour summation by quoting his secret witness, Jane Doe, a jailhouse snitch who claims Santiago confided in her behind bars.
"'Mama, Why Did You Kill Me?'" Schwartz said in an uncharacteristically quiet voice.
"That was the name of the book that Jane Doe sought to write [about Nixzmary] — a true story, not fiction, not make-believe."
The defense witness, who testified in a closed courtroom last week, probably helped Rodriguez more than she hurt him by leveling sex-abuse allegations and suggesting he took part in the final beating before Nixzmary's death.
Schwartz focused on one element of her testimony — the claim that Santiago was left alone with the second-grader in the bathroom where she died.
"According to Mama Dearest, they were using his fists to beat her up, but then he walks away," the lawyer said.
"He walks away and she stays and keeps going until Nixzmary becomes lifeless."
Even though he admitted his client was a child abuser, he described him as a "regular working stiff" who labored to care for the family — even Santiago's kids by other men.
He repeatedly referred to Santiago — who faces a separate murder trial — as "Mommie Dearest" and called her "sick, demented, disturbed. She is the one who killed her daughter.
Schwartz also attacked prosecutors, faulting them for bombarding jurors with the horrific photos of Nixzmary's lifeless form.
"It's OK for all of you to cry for Nixzmary Brown," he said. "It's OK when you see these pictures to feel a lump in your throat or the lump in your stomach.
"That's what it's designed to do to you. It's being done to inflame your passions."
During his opening statement, Schwartz called Nixzmary a "feisty" and suggested physical force was needed to discipline her.
His remarked invited outrage and he didn't insult the dead girl this time. In an understated tone that kept jurors glued to him, he apologized for his take-no-prisoners courtroom style.
"If I did anything to offend your jurors, I apologize, but that's my function."
The jury will likely get the case Thursday.
Original Article - Closing arguments given in Nixzmary Brown trial