Portrayed by the defense as a victim of sexual and physical abuse, by the prosecution as a "torturer," and by the judge as a "monster," Idamae Winterstein was sentenced to 30 years in prison today for the murder of her 2 1/2 -year-old son.
Winterstein, 30, pleaded guilty in Baltimore Circuit Court March 19 to the second-degree murder of David Michael Winterstein.
Judge Elsbeth Levy Bothe, imposing the maximum 30-year term, called the killing "one of the most dastardly cases I've ever heard."
"She's not a mother," the judge said. "She's a monster."
Winterstein, wearing faded jeans and a green blouse, showed no emotion. She declined to address the court before sentencing.
David died May 31 after being beaten, burned with cigarettes and suspended by his arms from an upper bunk bed in Winterstein's Highlandtown home.
Prosecutors said David was physically abused because he had regressed in his toilet training. An autopsy noted multiple bruises, burns, and holes from the prong of a belt buckle. The wounds were compounded by dehydration and untreated bronchial pneumonia.
Winterstein's boyfriend, Franklin Carl Redden, 40, who had moved into her home on South Conkling Street a month before the killing, also pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is to be sentenced May 30. Prosecutors will ask for a 30-year sentence for Redden.
Patrick O'Guinn, an assistant public defender, described his client as a lifelong survivor of physical and sexual abuse who was overly dependant on the men in her life. He charged that Winterstein was sexually abused by her father and, later, was beaten by her alcoholic husband, who died last year of a heart attack. Redden moved in with her a day later.
"In essence, she was a born battered spouse," O'Guinn said.
Dr. Ellen McDaniel, a psychiatrist called by the defense, said Winterstein kept secret the abuse by her father and dropped criminal charges against her husband after severe beatings. She said Winterstein was "emotionally and intellectually handicapped." McDaniel added, "She's helpless and very dependant on others to get through life in whatever way."
At one point, Bothe interrupted McDaniel, saying the death was "one of the most blood-curdling statements from a mother" and asking the psychiatrist for some sort of explanation of why it happened.
"To be beaten was a way of life for her," McDaniel said. "It was very primitive thinking."
Winterstein's sister told the judge that they were not abused by their father.
Assistant State's Attorney Laura Mullally said David was "tortured." "She beat him. She burned him. He was sick and she did not get him medical attention. He was hungry and [she] did not give him food."
Mullally noted that two older children, ages 10 and 8, are in foster care with relatives. The children were known to go to school dirty and do poorly in classes. Now, she said, they are doing well.
"Idamae Winterstein did not pick on somebody her own size," Mullally said.
After her arrest, Winterstein admitted punishing David by making him stand in a corner for two hours at a time, shaving his hair off, and beating him with a wooden paddle and belts. She said she had been trying to give David a bath on his final day but he kept falling and hitting the bathroom floor.