- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Twenty-one months ago, an editorial headlined "Who killed Brianna?" posed a haunting question in one of this region's most notorious child-welfare cases. On Monday, a D.C. Superior Court jury began answering that question when it convicted the little girl's godmother of murder.

In June 1998, 4-month-old Brianna Blackmond and several siblings, the oldest age 11, were taken from their mother after child-welfare workers found them neglected and their home filthy. All the children were sent to foster homes, and they all appeared to be doing just fine. Their mother meanwhile, was found guilty of neglect. For any mother, raising nine children is a daunting task. For Brianna's mother, it was especially so, considering she was in her mid-20s, had drug troubles and the fact that she is mentally ill. Still, knowing all that, Judge Eveyln E.C. Queen, prompted by an attorney representing Brianna's mother and without benefit of a hearing, ordered in December 1999 that Brianna be taken away from a nurturing foster-care family and returned to her mother's care. That judge's missteps sealed little Brianna's fate.

Brianna who had to move in with her mother, her godmother and her godmother's children grew despondent, and understandably so. After all, here was a not-quite-yet-two-year-old who was taken away from her family and forced to grow accustomed to new environs, a new mother and a new family as well. Then, on Jan. 5, less than two weeks after Judge Queen remanded custody, Brianna was rushed to Children's Hospital. Barely breathing, she had severe head injuries. Brianna died the next day.

Poor little Brianna, it seems, had been abused from Day 1. She was beaten for not eating. She was beaten for not playing with the other children. She was beaten for whimpering while getting her hair braided. She was beaten to death. She was beaten by her godmother, Angela T. O'Brien. Shockingly, that word came from O'Brien's own children, and on Monday, a jury found O'Brien guilty of second-degree murder and other charges, including obstruction of justice for encouraging her children to lie about Brianna's injuries.

The judge in the initial custody case stepped down amid the notoriety; ditto for the child-welfare director, who quit. The D.C. government is trying to overhaul, with considerable nudging from Congress, its child-welfare system, and its family court. The tragic story of Brianna forced all those issues.

Yet, the case is not closed. Also up in the air is judgment for Brianna's mother, Charrisise Blackmond, who witnessed O'Brien's sadistic turns on Brianna. See, as Brianna was taking her last breaths, Miss Blackmond told authorities that the toddler had fallen down the stairs and injured herself. Fortunately, the authorities didn't buy her story then, and they are not buying it now. Miss Blackmond's actions, and non-actions, have yet to be judged by a jury. So, you see, that is why the question, "Who killed Brianna?" remains only partially unanswered.

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