A woman testified today that her mother and older brother beat her 3-year-old sister to death before entombing the body in a bedroom closet — a macabre secret the Brooklyn family kept for two decades.
“I see both of them as devils,” Sabrina Yaw, 30, said at the non-jury murder trial in state Supreme Court in Brooklyn.
Asked by prosecutors to expose the family’s dark past, Yaw recalled seeing Madeline Carmichael, 61, and her son, Gregory Carmichael, 38, “standing over the child and beating the child.” The victim, she added, “screamed in pain, like a child hurting real bad” before the toddler dropped dead in a Brownsville apartment.
Dark Family Secret The defendants have pleaded innocent to second-degree murder charges alleging they killed Latanisha Carmichael in front of her twin brother and Yaw, then 9, in November 1979 after the abusive single parent became enraged that the victim had vomited.
The pair allegedly wrapped the diapered body in plastic and stashed it in a trunk filled with mothballs to cover the odor. It remained there for the next 20 years.
The defendants told any outsiders who asked about Latanisha that she was in a foster home, or had “moved south,” prosecutor Barry Schreiber said. When Sabrina asked, she was beaten into a lasting silence, he said.
“This bizarre and unthinkable murder and its cover-up became a deep, dark family secret,” Schreiber said in opening statements.
Schreiber said that the crime might never surfaced if Latanisha’s surviving twin, Andre — who had no memory of the victim — hadn’t contacted an aunt last year. The aunt startled him by asking if he was in touch with his twin.
That prompted Andre to confront Sabrina, who revealed the secret and agreed to go to police. Armed with a search warrant, detectives found the trunk in the mother’s closet last November.
Accidental Death or Faulty Memory Defense attorneys suggested the death was an accident. They claimed the murder case was solely built on the faulty childhood memories of Sabrina, and that an autopsy was inconclusive.
Madeline Carmichael’s attorney has accused prosecutors of “demonizing” his client in the media, forcing the defense to ask for a non-jury trial.
“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 the attorney, Joshua Horowitz.
Yaw calmly recounted a harrowing history fraught with fear, denial and beatings with extension cords.
Grisly Discovery The witness described seeing the trunk with her sisters’ mummified remains packed up with “beds, lamps and [a] table” when the family moved to a new apartment, where it was locked in a closet.
One day, Yaw and Andre “were playing and I decided we were going to go into the closet,” Yaw said. “He thought his toys were hidden in the closet, but I knew what was in there.” When the mother caught them, she received a severe beating “for being nosy,” she added.
Carmichael — confined to a wheelchair because of failing health — and her son had no visible reaction.
On cross-examination, Sabrina admitted she has stayed in touch with her jailed mother. She also testified she named the oldest of her six children Madeline after her mother delivered the child at home.
Gregory Carmichael’s attorney, Jeff Adler, attacked Yaw’s credibility by bringing up her own domestic discord, including charges she once threatened to kill her husband. He accused Yaw of not coming forward sooner “because you never saw [the defendants] beat her. … The truth of the matter is you don’t know what happened.”
Yaw shot back: “I know what happened. And I’m not going to sit here and have you tell me I didn’t.”