- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

MANASSAS, Va. — A North Carolina woman who beat to death a 2-year-old girl she had adopted from a Siberian orphanage was sentenced yesterday to 25 years in prison.

“‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t even come close. …That’s the way I feel,” Peggy Sue Hilt told Prince William Circuit Judge William Hamblen before he imposed the sentence.

Hilt, 34, of Wake Forest, N.C., told police after the July 1 death of Nina Hilt that she had failed to bond with the newly adopted girl, flew into a rage when the girl wouldn’t stop crying and repeatedly punched, kicked and stepped on the girl. Nina, who was 16 months old when she was adopted, died the next day.

Prosecutor Paul B. Ebert urged a severe sentence for Hilt, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in March, and the 25-year term exceeded the sentencing guideline range of 12 to 21 years.

Judge Hamblen called Hilt’s actions “completely inexplicable.”

“Ultimately the question of why you did what you did is drowned out by what you did,” Judge Hamblen said. “This child did not die from a single blow. Her injuries were the result of a course of conduct over an extended period of time.”

Judge Hamblen noted that Hilt failed to immediately seek medical attention for her daughter. The fatal beating occurred in Hilts’ North Carolina home. The next day, after she and her husband had traveled to Manassas for a family trip, Hilt called 911 to say the girl had stopped breathing.

Hilt, who rocked back and forth in her chair as Mr. Ebert described the injuries Nina suffered, gave a brief, barely audible statement before she was sentenced.

The case prompted outrage in Russia and calls for tougher rules governing foreign adoptions, especially because it came on the heels of a 12-year prison sentence given to an Illinois woman in the death of her 6-year-old son. The boy died weeks after she and her husband adopted him from Russia. A large contingent of Russian journalists covered yesterday’s sentencing.

Mr. Ebert said numerous couples wrote letters to the court saying that their own adoptions have been held up in the wake of Nina’s death. About 10,000 Russian children are adopted each year by foreigners, with about half going to the United States.

“As a result of this case … the whole adoption process [in Russia] came to somewhat of a halt,” Mr. Ebert told the judge. “People who were excited about having a baby were punished because of what she did.”

Mr. Ebert said psychological evaluations of Hilt don’t explain her conduct. But he noted that Hilt has been disciplined in jail for fighting and throwing water on another inmate — incidents that he said shed light on her character.

“Her appearance may belie what she is,” he said.

Defense attorney William Stephens said Hilt had been prescribed medication years ago to treat depression but had stopped taking it. She also was an alcoholic who hid her drinking from her husband and family, he said.

“She still had something in her psyche that hadn’t been treated, hadn’t been looked at, hadn’t been observed by others,” Mr. Stephens said.

Nina was the second girl adopted by the Hilts. A 5-year-old Ukrainian girl is living with the sister of Hilt’s husband.

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