By Alex Ginsberg
A Queens Village woman on trial for feeding her infant daughter a bare-bones vegetarian diet admitted Monday that the regimen was deficient in some nutrients, but she disputed prosecutors' allegations that her 16-month-old child was unable to hold her head up, cry loudly or reach for toys.
Silva Swinton stands accused along with her husband Joseph in State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens of malnourishing their daughter Ice with a diet that consisted of ground nuts, seeds, herbs, fruit juice, herbal tea and beans. If convicted on the charges of assault, reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child, the Swintons, both 32, could each receive a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.
The two were arrested in March 2002, six months after Ice was removed from their home by the Administration for Children's Services and was taken to Schneider Children's Hospital.
Defense and prosecuting attorneys offered summations Tuesday and the jury of nine women and three men was expected to begin deliberations Wednesday morning.
In testimony that stretched over two days, Silva Swinton painted a vivid picture of a healthy, energetic child who could sit up, hold her head up, reach for and throw toys, sing, and say “dada” and “home” – contentions directly contradicted by doctors who testified last week.
“She was extremely loud,” Swinton said, disputing Assistant District Attorney Eric Rosenbaum's claim that Ice could make no more noise than “a kitten.”
But she also conceded that the diet was not nutritionally sound.
“Do you realize that what you fed her was a deficient diet?” Rosenbaum asked Swinton.
“Yes,” she told him, “in calcium and fat.”
Swinton, speaking calmly and softly, and often taking long pauses, said that her daughter ate as much as 96 ounces of the soy milk she made at home. She denied that the child's small size was a concern.
“I didn't have a lot of dairy products in my diet,” she said. “Being a vegetarian, I didn't eat meat. I knew she wasn't going to be a big baby.”
Swinton said the baby weighed three pounds at birth, and doctors testified that she was 10 pounds when they examined her at the hospital 16 months later.
During cross-examination that became tense at times, Swinton frequently called medical records from Schneider Children's Hospital inaccurate. She denied telling doctors there that Ice was a full-term baby, that she had taken Ice to a pediatrician and that she thought other babies Ice's age were “too fat.” She said Ice did not have long fingernails, diaper rash or ribs visible through her thin skin.
In answer to doctors' testimony that Ice had legs bowed by rickets and a distended stomach, Swinton said her child was double-jointed and “had just eaten” before being taken to the hospital, a visit that prompted authorities to remove the baby from their home in November 2001.
Presented with a prosecution photo depicting a baby with bowed legs and an unnaturally protruding stomach, Swinton insisted that the child shown was not her daughter.
She also testified that she fed her daughter a conventional, store-bought soy formula for the first 4 1/2 months following birth, and after that supplemented her homemade soy milk with herbs and plants she believed were good sources of vitamins and minerals.
Although Swinton maintained a calm demeanor throughout her testimony, she grew frustrated with Rosenbaum's cross-examination, at one point responding to his question about Ice's size by telling him, “You're kind of small yourself, Mr. Rosenbaum.”
But she was steadfast in her insistence that Ice was, for the most part, healthy when ACS took her from the couple's home.
“Your testimony is that the child who was admitted to Schneider Children's Hospital named Ice Swinton thrived for 16 months?”
“She thrived,” Swinton said.
Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.