Guilty verdict in Norwich "Cinderella" child abuse case

A 40-year-old woman was found guilty Monday in Superior Court in Norwich of abusing her adopted daughter in a case reminiscent of the classic fairy tale "Cinderella." 

A jury of three men and three women deliberated just over an hour Monday before finding Lillian Mateo-Rolon, of 23 Melrose Park Road, Norwich, guilty of cruelty to persons and risk of injury to a minor.

She faces up to 15 years in prison when Judge Arthur C. Hadden sentences her on Dec. 14. She is free on a promise to appear in court.

Removed from the home and living in another part of the state, the teen told a school resource officer whom she knows that she is happier, saying, "I'm free," according to testimony.

Mateo-Rolon, who speaks English but is more comfortable with her first language, Spanish, had testified on Friday with the assistance of two interpreters.

She said she hit all of the children with her open hand and a belt when they were smaller. She said she treated all of them equally, but limited the adopted daughter's food to control her weight at the recommendation of a doctor whose name she couldn't remember.

She said the girl had normal meals like the other children, and snacks, but would then "steal" snacks and take them to her room.

"If she was hungry, why not feed her?" prosecutor Christa L. Baker asked Rolon during cross-examination. Pictures presented to the jury indicated the teen's weight was normal.

"What did you want me to do? Give her food 24 hours a day? Food, food, food, food, food," Mateo-Rolon responded.

Baker said Mateo-Rolon had called her daughter a liar when questioned by the state Department of Children and Families and had accused her of sending a nude photograph to a neighbor. The teen was wearing a tank top in the photo, but the mother said it showed "a bit" of her chest.

"She lied a lot," Rolon testified. "She had a problem with lying. Ever since she was little."

Rolon's attorney, Richard J. Perry from the public defender's office, characterized the teen as a habitual liar during his closing argument.

"Through this whole trial, the subject ... presented herself as a Cinderella," Perry said. "She wasn't a Cinderella. She was a Pinocchio."

The victim, now 18, had testified last week that she was forced to do all the family chores. She had previously told police she did everyone's laundry, but that when it came to washing her own clothing and blankets, her mother didn't allow her to use detergent.

The family's pastor, the Rev. Jonathan Quinones, and the pastor's wife, Gloria Quinones, told the jury the teen always wore tattered and used clothing, while her siblings — all biological children of their parents — always had new shoes and outfits.

Adopted as a toddler, the teen said she was denied second servings of food and snacks, and that her mother sometimes put so much salt on her food she couldn't eat it. A relative who tasted her portion during a family meal spit it out and declared it "saltier than the ocean," according to a court document.

The child was so hungry she ate food from the trash, and so thirsty she used water from a toilet to mix Kool-Aid, according to court documents and testimony.

The teen said her mother struck her with a sharpened spatula, broom stick and belt buckle, inflicting injuries that on at least one occasion required stitches. On the way to the emergency room for treatment of a leg injury, Mateo-Rolon told the teen to say she was running down the basement stairs, fell and cut her leg on a metal cooking pan, according to testimony.

The jury saw photographs of the teen's bruises, some of which she admitted were from other activities.

Two other family members also were charged with abusing the teen after she went to the pastor and to Norwich police in 2016. Their cases are being handled in different courts.

k.florin@theday.com

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