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Queens Village parents on trial in neglect case

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Jury selection began Tuesday in the trial of a Queens Village couple accused of nearly starving their baby girl to death with a bare-bones vegan diet.

Silva, 33, and Joseph Swinton, 32, pleaded not guilty in June to charges of reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child. If convicted, they could each receive up to 25 years in prison.

The prosecution and defense teams began questioning potential jurors in State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens before Judge Richard Butcher.

According to the criminal complaint, the Swintons' daughter, Ice, was born at home on July 31, 2000 without medical assistance. The complaint further alleges that the Swintons fed the child a strict vegan diet consisting of ground nuts, fresh squeezed juices, herbal teas, beans, cod liver oil and flax seed oil. The girl was neither breast-fed nor given infant formula.

Vegans observe strenuous dietary restrictions, excluding from their diets not only meat, fish and chicken but also any products produced by animals, such as eggs or milk.

According to the criminal complaint, doctors at Long Island Jewish Medical Center described Ice as severely malnourished, having no muscle mass, no teeth, weak bones, healing fractures of the ribs and forearm, a distended abdomen, difficulty moving her arms and legs and an inability to verbalize other than through soft crying.

"The defendants have been charged with acting with depraved indifference to human life in that they recklessly engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death to their infant daughter and thereby caused serious physical injury to her," Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said at the time. "The case is the worst case of child neglect that I have ever seen."

According to city officials, the couple's second child, born in July 2002, was removed from their home the following month and placed in foster care.

Since that time, both children have been placed with a foster parent who is specially trained to meet their medical needs, said MacLean Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the Administration for Children's Services.

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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