- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) - A woman was convicted in a plea deal Tuesday of fatally abusing her 21-month-old daughter in a case that prompted a state child welfare reform bill named after the girl.

The girl, Anayah, was returned to her parents from foster care several weeks before she died despite indications of prior abuse in the home. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan says he’ll sign legislation, nicknamed “Anayah’s Law,” aimed at preventing more such cases.

Stephanie Ramirez Williams, 22, acknowledged she failed to protect their child from being fatally beaten by her husband, Frankie Williams. He has pleaded “not criminally responsible,” a type of insanity plea, to charges including first-degree murder.

Stephanie Williams was convicted of first-degree child abuse resulting in death. She didn’t admit guilt but acknowledged the state had enough evidence to convict her at trial.

Assistant State’s Attorney Lindell Angel said the state will seek 20 years of incarceration at Williams’ sentencing April 14. The conviction carries a maximum penalty of 40 years. Prosecutors agreed to drop three other charges.

Anayah died March 15, 2014, several weeks after a judge ordered her returned to her parents under a federal law that generally requires state social services agencies to try to reunite families except in cases where a child has been subjected to “aggravated circumstances” defined by state law. The Anayah’s Law bill would add exceptions to reunification in the case of severe abuse by biological parents or if they do not protect their children from serious mistreatment.

Anayah had been removed from her parents’ care about 18 months earlier after suffering injuries including a skull fracture that left her with cerebral palsy. Anayah’s parents attributed those injuries to a fall from a bassinet and weren’t charged.

Angel said Williams’ cellmate would have testified at trial that Williams told her Frankie had caused the earlier injuries. The prosecutor said the cellmate would have testified that Williams told her “she had to lie so that Frankie wouldn’t go to jail,” Angel said

Angel said that since Williams knew her husband was abusive, “she was on notice” of her duty to protect Anayah from their father.

Defense attorney Sun Choi disputed the cellmate’s statements. She said Williams had been mentally and emotionally abused by her husband and felt obliged to obey him

“She loved these children,” Choi said after the hearing. “She wanted to protect them and realizes now she should have spoken up to protect them.”

Williams has filed for divorce, which Choi said could become final as soon as April 16.

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