The surviving twin of a girl allegedly killed by her mother and older brother said today the defendants sometimes beat him to keep him away from a bedroom closet where the girl’s body was entombed for 20 years.
Madeline Carmichael, 61, and her son Gregory, 38, are on trial for second-degree murder in the 1979 death of 3-year-old Latanisha Carmichael. New York prosecutors say the defendants beat the girl to death after she vomited, then tried to cover up the slaying, wrapping her body in plastic, placing it in a trunk filled with mothballs, and stashing the trunk in a bedroom closet.
Latanisha’s body allegedly remained there until investigators made the gruesome discovery last November after her two other siblings — her twin Andre and her older sister Sabrina — contacted police.
Madeline and Gregory Carmichael have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Their attorneys have suggested Latanisha’s death was an accident and that the defendants made a “horrible mistake” when they tried to cover it up.
Suffering for a Family Secret Today, in the second day of testimony in this non-jury trial in Brooklyn Criminal Court, Andre told Justice Anne Feldman he had no memory of his deceased twin. Often solemn, Andre, 24, said his memories only go back as far as age six or seven, three years after his sister’s death. He first suspected he had a twin when he was 12 years old when his aunt asked him about her, Andre said.
When Andre asked his mother whether he had another sibling, he said she evaded his question. His hands balling into a first on the stand and his jaw tightening, Andre said he soon found himself receiving a beating.
“She [Madeline Carmichael] really didn’t respond to me,” Andre said. “She and Greg then spoke. The next thing I know I was being beaten. … I was kicked, punched, slammed to the floor.”
Despite suggestions from the defense that the alleged beatings were not that severe, Andre said they were frequent in his mother’s household. He testified that his mother was a strict disciplinarian and didn’t let him go out or have any friends. His mother, Andre said, often used older brother Greg as an enforcer and he remembered Greg obeying orders to beat him and Sabrina.
“Everywhere I went, she was there; everywhere she went, I was there,” Andre said. “My mother basically [beat me] with anything she could get her hands on. Canes, extension cords, belts, you name it.”
The Forbidden Closet As a child, Andre recalled, he often played with doorknobs. But, he said, his mother was adamant about keeping him away from a bedroom closet where Latanisha’s body was kept. Andre said his mother and brother would beat him sometimes to keep him away from the closet, which often had a bookcase or bed in front of it.
After being beaten after his mother thought he had stolen $400 reserved for the monthly rent, Andre was placed in foster care in 1988. (Sabrina had already been placed in foster care six months earlier.) On his 13th birthday the following year, Andre said he saw his mother and asked her again whether he had a twin sister.
But again, he testified, she avoided the question.
“She said, ‘When you get old enough, I will tell you,’” Andre recalled. “ ‘I know someone who looks like you, talks like you, sits like you.’”
The Secret Revealed In the decade that followed, Andre continued to be haunted by the thought of his missing twin. He said he confronted Sabrina about his twin during a get-together in 1995 and she told him that they “would have to go to war and get their families out of the country” if she told him the truth.
Finally, Andre said, the truth was revealed when he next saw Sabrina in 1999. He told her he wanted to hire an investigator to track down his lost twin, prompting Sabrina to finally reveal the family secret.
“She told me it would be no use looking for [my] twin sister,” Andre said. “She told me she saw my mother and brother taking turns beating her. When they were finished, my mother tried to resuscitate my sister, but it was no use.”
This, Andre suggested on the stand, explained his mother’s peculiar reaction to his 4 year-old daughter, during their first meeting. Last year, the witness testified, he saw his mother for the first time in 10 years and wanted her to meet his daughter Andrea.
Andrea closely resembles her father. When they left the defendant’s home, Andre said his mother told him not to bring Andrea back.
Sabrina made Andre draw up and sign an agreement not to go to police. According to Andre, Sabrina feared their lives would be endangered if they told police about their family secret. But he soon tore up their written agreement, broke the promise, and investigators soon made the gruesome discovery.
During Andre’s testimony, Gregory Carmichael stared down at the table, refusing to look at his younger brother. Madeline Carmichael, confined to a wheelchair because of a variety of illnesses, kept her eyes fixed on Andre, periodically whispering into her attorney’s ear.
Abuse Exaggerated? During cross-examination by defense attorney Joshua Horowitz, Andre admitted that he had no recollection of his twin sister or her death. Horowitz, trying to cast doubt on the allegations of child abuse, also had Andre concede that his mother always cooked for him and his sister, never neglected them, and never sent them to school “in rags.”
Andre also admitted that he never complained about his beatings to any school officials, but added that his mother never let him speak for himself. He said he never suffered any broken bones or had to be hospitalized for the beatings. Still, he indicated that that didn’t lessen his wounds.
“But that didn’t stop her from busting me open a few times,” Andre said.
In other testimony today, a medical examiner who analyzed the autopsy report on Latanisha testified her killing was a homicide. However, he also said that her body had decomposed so much over 20 years that it was impossible to determine the cause of her death.
Targeting a Young Memory On Monday, defense attorneys suggested in opening statements that Latanisha’s death was an accident, but did not say how they thought the killing happened. They claimed the murder case was solely built on the faulty childhood memories of Sabrina, who was 9 when she allegedly witnessed the slaying. The defense also claimed the autopsy was inconclusive.
Horowitz accused prosecutors of “demonizing” Madeline Carmichael in the media.
“When the shock, the hatred and the prejudice is stripped away from this case, we are going to find a horrified, single mother who makes a terrible decision” to cover up a tragedy, said Horowitz.
Calling the defendants “devils,” Sabrina, now 30, testified Monday that she saw Madeline and Gregory Carmichael “standing over the child and beating the child.” until she stopped moving. Latanisha, she added, “screamed in pain, like a child hurting real bad,” falling silent.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Madeline and Gregory Carmichael could face up to 25 years to life in prison.