Trial begins in starvation death of West Des Moines teen
Updated 6:06 pm, Friday, December 1, 2017
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A trial for a West Des Moines woman charged with murder in the death of her adopted teenage daughter began Friday with a prosecutor arguing that the woman's home was ruled by "fear and confinement."
Lawyers gave opening statements in the trial of Nicole Finn, who has pleaded not guilty to murder, kidnapping and child endangerment in the October 2016 starvation death of 16-year-old Natalie Finn. Medical examiners have said Natalie Finn died from emaciation due to denial of critical care.
Nicole Finn, 43, created an intolerable home, Polk County prosecutor Bret Lucas said Friday.
"For Natalie and her siblings, there was no place like home, because for Natalie and her siblings, it was a place of fear and confinement," Lucas said.
Nicole Finn required her children to ask permission to eat or drink or go to the bathroom, Lucas said, and she eventually pulled Natalie and her sister from school.
A pediatric nurse at Black Children's Hospital said Natalie's then-14-year-old sister weighed about 70 pounds and was covered in bed sores when she was admitted the night Natalie died.
Natalie and her siblings would sneak out to beg for food, Lucas said.
But defense lawyer Jennifer Larson countered that "things aren't always as they appear."
Larson cautioned jurors not to compare how the Finn parented to their own families or those of their neighbors. Instead, she said, they should consider how Nicole Finn's judgment may have become more foggy as she struggled with health issues, little support and what she called the growing behavioral problems of her four adopted children.
Nicole Finn was divorced and raising the children as a single mother, Larson said.
Nicole Finn performed chest compressions and CPR on her daughter before paramedics arrived, Larson said.
Lucas countered that Nicole Finn took punishment of her children to extremes.
"Even to this day, it's not clear ... what they could have done right in the defendant's eyes," he said.
Lucas said Natalie Finn had no fat and almost no muscle on her body when police and emergency responders arrived at the West Des Moines home Oct. 24. She was wearing an adult diaper when she was found, and responders reported the heavy smell of urine and feces in the house.
The trial is expected to last several days.
The girl's adoptive father, Joseph Finn II, has pleaded not guilty to related charges. His trial is set for Jan. 8.