- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2020

Seven relatives of a 12-year-old girl, including her parents and adult sisters, have pleaded guilty to child endangerment for failing to properly care for her before she died of kidney failure and pneumonia.

Steven Bennett, 58, and Heidi Tranberg-Bennett, 47, were initially charged with second-degree manslaughter, a felony, in November, 11 months after their daughter Evanna died at Albany Medical Center.

Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka said the Austerlitz couple and five relatives who lived with them pleaded guilty to the lesser misdemeanor charge Wednesday.

The relatives admitted they were aware of Evanna’s symptoms but didn’t take her to a doctor or hospital soon enough. The criminal complaint said the girl had suffered increasingly severe symptoms of pneumonia and end-stage renal failure for at least a week before her death.

Her parents called 911 after she collapsed in December 2019 at their home in Austerlitz, 28 miles (45 kilometers) south of Albany. In Facebook posts, they said they believed that Evanna had a virus from which other family members had recovered and that she would recover, as well.

Seven other children, ages 2 to 11, were removed from the home by child protective services and placed in foster homes. They included the Tranberg-Bennetts’ three youngest children and four children of one of their daughters who also lived in their large Victorian house.

“My clients remain focused on the return of their seven children/grandchildren who have been held apart from them for more than one year,” their attorney, Michael Sussman, said by email. “The guilty plea was necessary to advance that objective, and represented a compromise common to our criminal justice system.”

The couple said they home-schooled all the children and had a religious exemption from vaccination, but social workers vaccinated them anyway while they were in foster homes.

“My clients have raised beautiful children and love each dearly. They deeply grieve Evanna’s death and her presence will grace their lives forever,” Sussman said.

Evanna’s sisters Venuska, Svenia, Petrevena and Tevania Tranberg-Bennett, and Ryan Torres, father of two of Venuska’s children, pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge, along with the parents.

Sentencing is scheduled in February.


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