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Trial begins for Schenectady woman accused of beating grandson to death

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SCHENECTADY N.Y. — The trial of a Schenectady woman accused of killing her 8-year-old grandson started Monday morning.

Gloria Nelligan, 43, has decided to waive a jury trial and have her murder case heard by Judge Karen Drago, who is presiding over the case at the Schenectady County Court.

The grandmother is accused of beating her grandson, Sha'hiim Nelligan, to death earlier this year.  She has been charged with one count of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter.  Nelligan says the boy would act out and hurt himself and that he hit his head on the bathtub the morning he died. 

Opening statements started the trial on Monday. Prosecutor Christine Tremonte says Nelligan caused such severe swelling to the boy's head when she beat him that his heart stopped due to lack of blood. She says the attack started after the little boy stole a pack of gum from Dollar General and continued over a period of several days.

Tremonte says it was a wooden backscratcher that Nelligan used as her weapon of choice.

Defense attorney Mark Caruso did not deny that his client used discipline on the boy, however he maintains that she did not kill him and did not act in a way that caused his death.

In his opening statements, Caruso said a reasonable person would not think a backscratcher would cause death. Nelligan wiped away tears as he spoke.

Caruso says they chose a bench trial over a jury trial because the pictures in this case are very difficult to look at and he did not think a jury could be impartial.

Th first witnesses followed opening statements. The first on the stand was Kayla Nelligan – the birth mother of Sha'hiim, who gave up her parental rights to Nelligan several years ago. She said she last saw the boy earlier this year and did not see any signs of abuse.

The Dollar General employee also testified saying Nelligan brought Sha'hiim into the store on February 19th saying "she just kept holding him by the mouth and said just tell him what you did." The employee said Nelligan responded saying "I will handle this when I get home." Then, just four days later, authorities were called to the home saying they found Sha'hiim was unconscious and naked with bruises all over his body.

The trial is expected to last at least two weeks. Nelligan's three children are expected to take the stand; it is not clear if Nelligan will take the stand in her own defense.

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