Charlene Tabb, 30, of Muncie, Indiana has been sentenced to 87 years in prison for the murder of her 5-year-old cousin, Marie Pierre.
The little girl was found dead on the dining room floor of Tabb’s house, where she had been living with Charlene and Charlene’s younger siblings, who were 16, 14, and 11 at the time of the child’s death.
Marie was found to have around 80 different scars, bruises, and burns in various stages of healing, including what was described as a “gaping, baseball-sized hole” on her buttocks. Yet, when police began to interrogate Charlene Tabb, she maintained that she had no idea how the child had gotten the injuries and that she had been fine when she left for work.
But her siblings had a different story to tell — a story of torture and abuse, and one that implicated themselves, as well.
Tabb’s siblings testified that Charlene punished Marie with beatings because the little girl had frequent bouts of nausea. The two younger siblings also admitted that they often joined in on the abuse, at their older sister’s direction, using tools such as a hammer and pliers in order to torture the child.
During the initial interrogation, Charlene Tabb repeatedly insisted that she had never harmed Marie, saying that the little girl was a well-behaved child who was disciplined by simply being talked to, or having a toy taken away for a short time.
“She hasn’t been complaining about anything,” Tabb added. “I did not punish her. She (is) a good child. I would never hurt her.”
But the 80 wounds on the child’s dead body told a much different story.
As investigators began to ask Charlene Tabb more questions, Tabb began to imply that perhaps her younger siblings were responsible for the child’s death. Tabb’s siblings had been sent from Florida to live with Tabb in July of 2012.
“I have to find out what happened to Marie!” Tabb said to investigators at one point. “My mom would never send all these kids with me if she didn’t trust me.”
Police Sergeant Jimmy Gibson replied, “Well, it looks like Mom made a mistake here.”
When confronted with the fact that Marie had injuries to her nipples that appeared to be inflicted with pliers, Tabb still claimed she did not know how the child was harmed. “I have no idea. I’m kind of shocked,” she said, and then began repeatedly stating that her 16-year-old sister had been left in charge while she worked. She said that Marie had never complained and that the child had “seemed happy.”
In fact, Charlene insisted, all of the children under her care in her house were doing great.
“Doesn’t sound like it,” Sergeant Gibson responded. “You’ve got a little girl with all these wounds, and now she’s dead.”
He later added, “I think she’s been living in hell for a while.”
The police later learned from Tabb’s younger sister that Charlene would grow enraged over Marie’s nausea, which caused her to vomit multiple times throughout the day. Tabb dismissed the claim, saying that recurring nausea was “common to all of us,” and that she “didn’t pay any attention to that.” When asked why she never sought medical treatment for Marie’s frequent vomiting, Tabb said the child only threw up “once every three months.”
Charlene Tabb continued to deny all allegations of abuse, even those by her sister, that Tabb often beat Marie with a belt and forced her to sleep on the dining room floor, where her body was found.
“Shame on you for not taking care of her,” Officer Gibson told Tabb as he placed her under arrest.
The recording of the interviews with Charlene Tabb by Sergeant Gibson were played during Tabb’s trial. Gibson took the stand afterward and was questioned by Tabb’s lawyer, Michael Quirk, who began to criticize the officer for “the way you treated and talked to my client.” Quirk pointed out that Gibson repeatedly interrupted Tabb during the interview, and implied that the police had made quick conclusions drawn from the testimony of “dubious” witnesses — Tabb’s younger siblings.
“That and I had a dead child,” Gibson responded.
“Did it ever dawn on you that she might be telling the truth?” Tabb’s lawyer asked, and Gibson responded that he believed little of what Tabb had said during her interview.
“I don’t think she cared too much for Marie,” Gibson told the courtroom.
“And what are you basing that on?” Tabb’s attorney asked.
“Her maimed and tortured body,” the police sergeant responded.
Tabb’s attorney also cross-examined Tabb’s brother, via a live video feed from the Child Advocacy Center.
The boy testified that shortly before Marie died, she told him that she was “very cold,” and that she said, “I just feel weak.”
It was during that testimony that the boy acknowledged that he himself had inflicted Marie’s most serious injury — the gaping wound to her backside — with a hammer, during the week of her death. He added that two days before Marie died, his sister had smashed the child’s toes with a hammer and pierced her foot with a screwdriver. The abuse of Marie’s feet, he explained, was part of a “game” concocted by Charlene Tabb — a claim that all three of Tabb’s younger siblings have made.
“Why did you continue to harm her in horrendous ways?” Tabb’s attorney asked the brother.
“I don’t know,” the boy responded. “I was in way over my head…Sir, I was just doing what I was told.”
The only person in the home that was not charged in Marie’s abuse and subsequent death is Charlene Tabb’s 16-year-old sister.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Click here to learn the signs and symptoms of abuse.
[Image via the Indy Star]