Frederick County

Maryland Woman Gets 20 Years in Fatal Abuse of 2-Year-Old Boy

A woman who allowed her husband to fatally abuse a 2-year-old boy in their care was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison after prosecutors said she ordered the daily beatings and directed the couple's own children to lie to investigators.

"She was the one that wore the pants. She was the one that instructed that the beating should occur," Frederick County State's Attorney J. Charles Smith said.

Melissa D. Brittle, 38, of Thurmont must serve at least half her prison term before she's eligible for release, followed by five years on probation. The judge suspended another 20 years of a 40-year sentence.

Brittle's husband, Raymond M. Brittle, could get up to 55 years at his sentencing March 19.

Both pleaded guilty in November to first-degree child abuse resulting in the September 2013 death of Robert Watkins. Raymond Brittle also pleaded guilty to second-degree child abuse for an earlier episode involving the same child.

Defense attorney Mary Drawbaugh portrayed Melissa Brittle as "a low-functioning, uneducated, controlled individual" with no prior criminal record who was powerless against her monstrous husband.

But Frederick County Circuit Judge William R. Nicklas said he was swayed by two text messages Brittle sent to her husband while heading home from the hospital where Robert died, accompanied by police and social services workers. She had told them the boy's fractured skull and other injuries came from falls off a trampoline and down some stairs. And she wanted to ensure that her three children, ages 6 to 15, backed up her story.

"Tell them to tell them he fell down the stairs," she instructed her husband.

Raymond Brittle texted back that the children were asleep.

"Get them up so they can talk to them," Melissa Brittle texted back, according to Smith.

Prosecutors say the abuse included kicks, beatings with a belt and cleaning the boy's teeth with a wire grill brush.

Robert's mother considered Raymond Brittle her stepfather although he had never been married to her mother. She was incapable of caring for the child and gave him to the Brittles, Smith said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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