Group accused in baby’s starvation death back in court

By Justin Pritchard, The Associated Press
Friday February 22, 2002

Papers show 13 siblings were abused for misbehaving, force-fed and starved 


SAN RAFAEL — The 13 siblings who lived in a cultish family home where one child starved to death were lashed and forced-fed chili peppers if they misbehaved, according to papers filed with the court where the children’s parents appeared Thursday. 

The 12 surviving children, in protective custody since their 19-month-old brother died in mid November, also described a suburban home with harsh punishments for sneaking food during routine three-day fasts. 

One of the girls said she was tied to a playpen at night for two weeks as punishment for eating during a fast, according to the documents. Other children told authorities that discipline included their mouths being sealed with tape and being bent over a weight lifting bench and beaten with a belt. 

Authorities said they seized a so-called “Book of Rules” from the house where Winnfred Wright allegedly terrorized his children along with four women, three of them the children’s mothers, according to documents reviewed by a reporter Wednesday but absent from the court’s file Thursday. 

Wright, 45, and the three mothers — Carol Bremner, 44, Deirdre Wilson, 37, and Mary Campbell, 37 — remain in Marin County jail without bail. During Thursday’s hearing a judge gave the fourth woman, the children’s self-described home school teacher, a chance to make $100,000 bail. 

When the judge announced the bail reduction, Campbell, who is visibly pregnant, turned to Kali Polk-Matthews and smiled, touching her on the arm. But Polk-Matthews, 20, did not post the money by Thursday night and remained behind bars. 

Judge Terrence Boren also imposed a temporary gag order preventing lawyers and officials from speaking publicly about the case. He will review that decision March 12 when the defendants are expected to enter pleas. 

All five adults were indicted earlier this month and arrested on charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter and child neglect; Polk-Matthews, who only joined the household months ago and did not bear any children, doesn’t face the murder charge. 

The grand jury indicted Polk-Matthews without a request by prosectuors. 

“My niece Kali Matthews is a kind and decent person,” Jim Matthews said outside the courtroom. “I hope that she’s able to extricate herself from this matter. It’s a sad affair all around.” 

Prosecutors argued that Polk-Matthews’ bail should be set at $500,000 because she did little to try and save a 19-month-old the night he died. 

The boy suffered from multiple fractures because he had almost no calcium in his bones, according to forensic child pathologist Gregory Reiber, who did the autopsy on Ndigo Campisi-Nyah-Wright. 

“In spite of being faced with the agony of a child gasping for breath and turning blue, she never called for medical assistance,” prosecutors wrote in papers filed Thursday. Those papers also said some of children were “obviously deformed” and Ndigo was “frighteningly small,” but Polk-Matthews did not contact police. 

Medical authorities have said most of the other children were also malnourished, deprived of sunlight and suffering from rickets, a bone-softening disease caused by a lack of vitamin D. 

Just before Boren issued the gag order on lawyers, law enforcement officials and social workers, Wright’s lawyer took a few shots against media coverage of the case. 

“Because the case involves racial and sexual issues and an alternative lifestyle, it creates an atmosphere vulnerable to voyeurism and sensationalism,” attorney Mary Stearns argued in asking wanted Boren to seal any documents related to the case— a motion opposed by a lawyer for the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Boren didn’t order any further sealings, though several affidavits prosecutors filed Wednesday were missing from the court’s file. 

The Marin Independent Journal reviewed those affidavits and reported that they provided a chilling account of Ndigo’s last days alive. 

One girl in the house said Ndigo got progressively thinner as he was fed a diet of tea with supplements. Wright told investigators the night the baby died he had a hard time breathing and he was placed in front of a television to stimulate his brain, the paper reported. 

Wright has refused requests for interviews. 

Reached at his Sacramento home Thursday night, his father, Leonard Wright, refused to answer questions. 

“I have nothing to say,” Wright said, “Nothing to say.”