Ann Marie Shawley was born into a life of violence. Her parents, young, poor and unmarried, fought. Her father, a high school dropout, often drank and hit people. Her stepmother, angry and volatile, was quick to spank.
She was a tiny child with enormous brown eyes who loved to play dress-up and wear her mother's high heels, even as violence and chaos swirled around her. She never would see her third birthday.
Today, an Oakland County Circuit Court judge will give Ann Marie's stepmother the mandatory sentence of life in prison for beating her to death during an hours-long torture session in her father's Novi trailer last Labor Day weekend.
The child died of massive head injuries Sept. 2. An autopsy showed she also had extensive bruising, welts and scratches, severe burns on her buttocks from a heating vent and numerous fresh cigarette burns. Police say her stepmother, Nikole Frederick, 24, duct-taped her mouth to muffle her screams.
While her death was shocking and tragic -- people in the courtroom wept when the verdict was read -- it was not surprising.
Those who study child abuse say Ann Marie was in danger the day she was born, vulnerable because she had a family where, at least in her father's home, violence was as common as conversation, where people solved problems with their fists, where adults with few parenting skills routinely spanked small children in anger.
"This child never had a chance," said Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Gregory Townsend. Relationship rooted in violence
John Shawley and Raeanna Craig had been sweethearts at Redford Union High School, but even then the relationship was violent. Soon, Craig was pregnant with their first daughter, Linda, now 4.
Now Raeanna Schmidt, the 25-year-old declined to comment for this report, but friends and family say they saw Shawley, 24, abuse her. Schmidt's sister said the abuse would happen when Shawley had been drinking or if her sister stood up to him.
"I seen it," Kristin Gregg said.
Schmidt's parents also knew it went on. The police, they said, constantly were called to the couple's Redford Township home.
"All I know is that John has a temper, and he believes when he speaks, they should jump," said Schmidt's mother, Debbie Craig. "She didn't involve us in a lot of it. . . . I just know that John believes men are superior."
Soon Schmidt was pregnant a second time. Ann Marie was born June 30, 2001, but by then, the relationship between her parents was over.
Shawley soon moved in with Nikole Frederick, a single mother who had dropped out of Redford Union in the 10th grade. She and Schmidt had been friends.
Frederick and Shawley married in 2002, but soon that relationship also turned violent.
In December 2002, Schmidt, who was then living with her future husband, Scott Schmidt, in the small town of Emmett in the Thumb, filed a personal protection order against Shawley. She told police she had gone to Shawley's Redford Township home at Frederick's request because Shawley had been beating Frederick.
In the report, Schmidt said she was afraid for her life and the lives of her children. She said Shawley had threatened to kill her and had grabbed her throat. Frederick and the children were witnesses, she said.
Domestic violence between parents is often a precursor to child abuse, experts say. Between 30 and 60 percent of mothers who are battered ultimately will batter their children, according to U.S. Department of Justice figures.
And the fact that Ann Marie was left in her stepmother's care for weekends at a time also made her vulnerable. Stepparents, according to one nationally recognized study, are much more likely to brutalize children, especially those younger than 5, than biological parents.
That, and Frederick's young age, lack of education and parenting skills, and the fact that she was beaten as a child, according to a statement she gave police, spelled disaster for Ann Marie.
"All of those are risks," said Murray Straus, codirector of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire and a nationally known expert on child abuse. "And when you have a configuration like this, with all of those risks coming into play, there is a much greater probability that the child will be abused."
They are risks, said Debbie Craig, but no excuse for what Frederick did to Ann Marie. That, she said, was a simple result of immaturity and selfishness.
"Sometimes you've got to take responsibility for yourself and quit blaming society, my schooling, my parents, my this, my that. You grow up and accept life," she said.
Novi Police Detective Victor Lauria agreed, adding that parents are supposed to protect their kids.
"This has nothing to do with being poor or rich. It's the way you conduct yourself," he said. "Raeanna couldn't see what was going on in Novi from Emmett. But John Shawley, if he doesn't know what happened, he damn well should have." Spanking gets out of control
Other clues that Ann Marie was at grave risk emerged during Frederick's two-week trial. Frederick, in her statements to police shortly before her arrest, described routinely spanking her 1-year-old son, Jonathon, and Ann Marie.
And Frederick, with few resources, living in an impoverished home and a violent marriage, was clearly not up to the demands of raising small children, particularly two that were not her own.
In the 48 hours leading up to the beating that claimed Ann Marie's life, Frederick was caring for her son, 5-year-old daughter and her stepdaughters, Ann Marie and Linda.
There was not enough money in the house for cigarettes that Sunday, and Frederick was growing more edgy as the day wore on. She had not slept the night before because Jonathon had kept her up. And when she asked Shawley what had happened to the household money, he told her to mind her own business.
Lauria, who interviewed Frederick after the beating, said the abuse also happened because of a breakdown in the Shawley-Frederick relationship.
"She was saddled with the responsibility of not only taking care of her child, but also watching her husband's two children. She got little or no help from him," he said. "She told us in interviews he doesn't get up with them in the middle of the night and then he complains about it if she asked him to. She harbored a lot of resentment for Ann Marie."
Ann Marie, a feisty toddler, took the brunt of it. Frederick would later tell police that Ann Marie was stubborn, whiny and "a hard baby." That Sunday, the spanking started early and went on all day, escalating in the middle of the night.
"The only time we swatted her butt is to keep getting her off the vent" -- a heating vent on the floor -- "and it was probably 15, 20 times during the day we kept swatting her butt, trying to get her to stay off of it," Frederick told police.
Frederick's 5-year-old daughter by another man witnessed the beatings and later told police, "Mom wouldn't stop hitting Annie, and Annie kept crying and crying, and Mom wouldn't stop."
Experts say spanking is the first dangerous step toward relinquishing self-control in dealing with a child. At least two-thirds of child abuse cases start with spanking, studies show, and children between ages 2 and 5 are most likely to be spanked.
Sometime after midnight, Ann Marie woke up and vomited on the living room rug. And then, the spanking turned to outright beating. Frederick, in her interviews with police, eventually admitted shoving the 25-pound child into the toilet, but insisted it was an accident.
And Frederick told police that as she tried to wash off the toddler in the shower, the girl was thrashing about and hit her head repeatedly on the tub and shower wall.
Ann Marie's cigarette burns, Frederick said, likely were inflicted by little Jonathon.
But as the police interrogation lengthened, Frederick began to confess more, adding that she shook the girl when she realized she was unconscious.
"I killed that little girl," she said. "I killed that little girl, didn't I . . . oh, my God; oh, my God. But I didn't do it on purpose. I was just trying to wake her up. I did shake her. Oh, my God."
Shawley insisted he slept through the beating. He was not charged.
In a recent interview at his home, Shawley said he does not believe that Frederick killed his daughter. He called Frederick a good mother and blamed Schmidt, insisting she caused Ann Marie's head injuries before the child visited him in Novi, but the injuries didn't show up for two days.
Police, prosecutors and medical experts all say Shawley's version is preposterous.
Shawley said he is struggling with the loss of his wife, who will live out her life in prison, and daughter. "In a matter of a day, my daughter passes away and my wife's in prison and my other two kids are taken away," he said. "But a lot of things don't add up."
Prosecutors are seeking to sever Shawley's parental rights to his son and daughter.
"Some days I feel like I would trade places with her," Shawley said of Frederick. "Some days, I feel like I would lose it and become violent."
Contact TERESA MASK at 248-351-3691 or firstname.lastname@example.org, L.L.BRASIER at 248-858-2262 or email@example.com and FRANK WITSIL at 248-351-3690 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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