School officials and neighbors complained that Nicole Finn’s three adopted teenagers were dirty and appeared hungry, but it wasn’t until one of them died weighing 85 pounds and wearing a soiled adult diaper that the extent of their alleged abuse was discovered.
On Thursday, an Iowa jury found Finn guilty of first-degree murder, child endangerment and kidnapping — just over a year after 16-year-old Natalie Finn died on Oct. 24, 2016 from cardiac arrest brought on by starvation, according to the Associated Press.
Nicole Finn kept Natalie and her siblings Jaden and Mikayla, all adopted from foster care, in an empty bedroom that had an alarm to alert the adoptive mother if they tried to leave, according to the Des Moines Register. They didn’t have consistent access to water and food — and Mikayla said she once drank toilet water to quench her thirst.
The trio would beg neighbors for food after exiting their West Des Moines home through a window.
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Mikayla testified in court that on Oct. 23, 2016, she gave her ailing sister a sponge bath in a kitty litter tray, the Register reported. The next day, Natalie, covered in bed sores, choked on her own vomit and died.
Jennifer Larson, the attorney for Nicole, argued that her client did not "put a plan to end in starvation” and that the kids could leave the bedroom.
"(Natalie’s death) is tragic, and it's sad, and it's terrible and all these other emotions, but it's not criminal,” Larson said in court, according to KCCI8. “They are able to come out of their room if they want to. There is nothing keeping them in there. There's no lock. There's no barrier to that door.”
According to WHO-TV, attorneys for Nicole argued she had an imperfect perception of reality caused by depression and PTSD.
But in the end, the jury found her guilty of charges that have a mandatory minimum in Iowa of life in prison, the AP wrote.
“In 18 years of being a prosecutor, this is the worst case I’ve ever seen,” prosecutor Bret Lucas said in court, according to the Register. “I’m glad we got justice for Natalie, and can give Jaden and Mikayla some closure.”
The two surviving siblings are now back in foster care.
Joseph Finn, the ex-husband of Nicole who was not at the house at the time of the abuse, now faces charges of neglect causing serious injury, kidnapping and abandonment, according to WHO. He will be in court next month.