Houston Chronicle, June 23, 1998

Woman testifies she only spanked boy, 8, who died
By Paul McKay

CONROE -- A New Caney woman accused of fatally beating her 8-year-old half brother admitted only to "spanking" him, although prosecutors say he was "bruised from head to toe."

In a videotaped statement viewed by Montgomery County jurors Tuesday, Diana Lynn Miskell said she was upset with young Herman Nelson on Oct. 24 for reasons such as wearing his pants too low, wiggling his loose teeth despite her admonitions to stop and waking his three younger sisters to play at night.

When she realized she had spanked him on the back, Miskell said, she poured alcohol on him as a first-aid measure shortly before she took him to a bedroom, where she realized he was unconscious. The boy was pronounced dead on arrival at a Kingwood hospital a short time later.

Photos of the body show that his back was covered with bruises and lacerations. Prosecutors say Miskell beat the boy on his back, face, arms and legs with her hands, a belt and a switch cut from a tree.

"I was just trying to teach him a lesson; that's all," said Miskell, 39, who is on trial on charges of murder and injury to a child.

Miskell was keeping Herman and his three younger sisters temporarily as a favor to one of her half sisters, who had custody of the children but was hobbled by a back ailment.

Miskell's and the boy's natural father is in a Texas prison for a theft conviction. Herman's mother, now living in Arkansas, lost custody of him and his sisters after being found unfit.

Defense lawyers contend that Miskell deserves mercy because she has a long history of sexual and physical abuse that began when she was about 3 years old.

A Houston psychologist, Dr. Edward Friedman, told jurors Tuesday that he evaluated Miskell and concluded that she has a severe psychological disorder and may not have been fully aware of the damage she was doing. He said she claimed not to remember all the events of the assault, which lasted for hours, leading him to conclude that she was in a "disassociative state."

But prosecutor Mike Griffin suggested that "maybe -- maybe -- she's just mean."

"It could be," Friedman acknowledged. "I don't know."

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