FULLERTON — A homeless couple whose infant son was bitten 110 times by a starving pet rat were convicted Friday of child neglect charges, but jurors deadlocked on whether the parents also were guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Defense attorneys for Kathyleen and Steven Giguere said they believe the jury's verdict was a partial vindication for their clients.
"It's bad enough that they lost their baby but to have a jury say that you killed your baby and to have to live with that for the rest of their lives was really weighing on their minds," said defense attorney Salvatore Ciulla.
The couple were arrested Aug. 26 after their 4-month-old son, Steven Jr., was found dead in a trash-strewn, roach-infested station wagon where the family was living with a pet rat named Homer.
Kathyleen, 31, and Steven Giguere Sr., 28, face up to six years in prison when they are sentenced July 18. Under sentencing guidelines, they would not face any additional prison time if convicted of manslaughter charges.
As a result, it appears unlikely that prosecutors will seek a retrial on the outstanding count, but Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Jim Tanizaki said the decision will be made before the sentencing.
After deliberating for three days, jurors deadlocked 9 to 3 Friday in favor of convicting the couple of manslaughter.
Jury foreman Steve Markley said the case was a draining one for jurors, who pored over graphic autopsy photos of the infant's mauled body and had to make tough judgments about parents who allowed their children to live in such filthy conditions.
Jurors had little trouble finding the parents guilty of neglect, he said. During the trial, jurors heard testimony that the parents spent much of their money on liquor and junk food and were seemingly oblivious to their unkempt surroundings.
But jurors were unable to reconcile conflicting evidence on whether the rat had killed the infant.
Prosecutors contended that the child bled to death after the rat's sharp teeth struck an artery. Defense attorneys said the boy died from sudden infant death syndrome before the rat attacked and called it a "freak accident."
Dianne Giguere of La Mirada said she feels sympathy for her son and daughter-in-law, but said the couple are responsible for her grandson's death.
"I feel they should have been found guilty for what happened to the baby," she said, adding that the couple have lived irresponsibly over the years. "It's very hard to look at them. You think, how could they do this to their child?"
Blood tests show that the parents had traces of the drug methamphetamine in their systems at the time of the death, and the father admitted using marijuana the day before the baby died. Superior Court Judge Kazuharu Makino barred testimony about drug use.