DANBURY, CT (The News-Times) – Moments before a judge sentenced her to 15 years in prison for abusing three children in her care, a sobbing Lidia Quilligana apologized to the family she had wronged.
“I couldn’t control myself,” Quilligana, 32, said Tuesday through a Superior Court interpreter. “Believe me, I loved those children with all my heart. I’m sorry a thousand times.”
But the apology did little to sway the mother of the children, a 3-year-old girl and 1-year-old twins, who prosecutors said had been “tortured” by Quilligana. Authorities have said video from a “nanny cam” showed her holding the 3-year-old’s hands and legs to a hot stove, slapping her and dragging her around by their hair.
“To be frank, I’m not the one you should apologize to,” the mother of the victims said in a brief statement to the court. “You need to own up to what you did and serve your time. There is no excuse for your behavior.”
“I can’t even fathom what these children went through that wasn’t caught on video,” added the children’s godmother. “I can’t imagine spending day after day with this torture. These were all babies.”
Court officials said the case was like no other they had seen in their careers.
“There was an amount of sustained and depraved cruelty that I’ve never seen before,” said attorney Sharon Dornfeld, who was appointed to represent the victims. “Every parent at some point snaps and does something to their child they later regret. The video shows this case isn’t even close to that.
“She tortured those children,” Dornfeld told Judge Kevin Russo. “There is no other way to describe it.”
Assistant State’s Attorney Warren Murray said the video, which was not shown in open court and which the judge ordered sealed last week, covers about 10 days in March 2015.
“The abuse occurred virtually every day that we have video for,” Murray said. “While Lidia may seem petite, she was big enough to casually pick up a 3-year-old girl and swing her around by the hair, much like a track star swings a hammer. It was just so disturbing. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Attorney Jenn Tunnard, who represents Quilligana, admitted that the level of abuse was “unthinkable, unconscionable and unfathomable,” but added that Quilligana had herself suffered from abuse as a child.
”Her father, who drank heavily, would hang Lidia and her siblings by their legs and beat them until they bled,” she said.
Quilligana disciplined the children in the only way she knew how, Tunnard said.
”While the public may see my client as a monster, she is really a sad person who lost control,” Tunnard said.
Quilligana, who has three children of her own, was approaching a nervous breakdown in the weeks leading up to the abuse, Tunnard said. She had left two older children behind in Ecuador when she came to the United States, and one had been injured in a car accident a few weeks before the abuse began.
The stress of providing for the child’s medical bills had became overwhelming, Quilligana’s sister said through the court interpreter.
“In our country, you have to pay first before you get medical care,” she said. “Lidia had spent most of that week up at night trying to figure out how to make more money.”
”My dad raised us in his own way, by beating us,” continued the sister, whose name was not immediately available. “As adults, and a mother myself, I realize that was wrong. Here in this country, there are protections for little children, but in our country there isn’t.”
Before handing down his sentence Judge Kevin Russo asked Quilligana’s sister why Quilligana would continue the same kind of abuse she received as a child.
“Because she needed help,” the sister answered. “She didn’t get the help she needs.”
While handing down his sentence, Russo noted that the theme song from “Chuggington,” a popular children’s show that teaches morals and values, was playing in the background while Quilligana held the girl’s legs to the hot stove.
Russo said the defining moment in the video for him was when Quilligana let the girl out of a toy box and ordered her upstairs, only to slap the girl violently in the face when she complied.
”As she turned up the stairs, you slapped her,” Russo asked Quilligana. ”For what? She had already complied with your orders.”
“But what it did was serve as a coming attraction for a horror movie,” the judge said. “It’s clear from her body language that (the girl) had accepted that beatings were part of her 3-year-old life.”
In handing down the 15-year sentence, Russo conceded it was inadequate.
“The punishment doesn’t even come close to fitting the crime,” he added.