Mom pleads guilty to murder in death of 19-month-old daughter

Mom pleads guilty to murder in death of 19-month-old daughter
Christina Carlson (right), shrouded in a red blanket, is comforted by her attorney during an earlier court hearing.
Warning: Story contains graphic content that may be upsetting to some readers.

SEATTLE - A mother pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree murder in federal court for the death of her 19-month-old daughter in a parked car on the Tulalip reservation.

Court papers filed in the case say Christina D. Carlson, 36, left Chantel Craig and a 2-year-old daughter alone on Oct. 8, 2012, in the car in which they were living. The younger daughter later was pronounced dead, and the 2-year-old required hospitalization.

Carlson initially was charged in Tulalip Tribal Court, but the charges were later transferred to U.S. District Court in Seattle. She also pleaded guilty Tuesday to first-degree criminal mistreatment of her 2-year-old daughter.

Under the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to seek a prison sentence of 8 to 13 years, although the judge does not have to abide by that agreement and could hand down a longer sentence of up to life in prison.

An autopsy showed Carlson's daughter Chantel suffered from dehydration and severe malnutrition, weighing just 18 pounds with prominent ribs and a sunken abdomen. She was found covered in urine and feces, with maggots in her diaper and lice in her hair.

Her older sister was found in a similar condition - pale but still alive - strapped into a car seat with abrasions on her skin and bleeding wounds. Her blanket was found to be infested with maggot larva and bed bugs.

Officers responded to the scene after receiving a 911 call from another woman who lives nearby. When they arrived, they found Christina Carlson performing CPR on her younger daughter, who was lying on the ground in front of the car.

An investigation found that neither daughter's diaper had been changed for days, and that the little girls had been mostly confined to the car - much of the time in warm weather with the windows rolled up, according to court documents.

Carlson told investigators that she had run out of diapers, but officers found a full package of unused diapers in the trunk of the car.

Witnesses also told investigators that Carlson and her daughters had been living in her car, that she never fed the girls anything but 2 percent milk, and that she smoked opiates in her car while her daughters were there, court documents say.

At the time of Chantel's death, state and tribal welfare workers had been trying to find Carlson for months after receiving reports that she had been severely mistreating and neglecting her daughters.