"Dear mommy, How are you doing. How are you feeling. Why did you kill David. I have a happy life here. . . ."
"Dear mommy, Why did you and Frankie kill David. You and Frankie hurt my feelings because you killed David. Frankie hurt David the most. Frankie hurt my feelings the most. . . ."
In brief letters read during their mother's sentencing yesterday, Idamae Winterstein's two remaining children demanded an answer. Why was their 2 1/2 -year-old brother, David, beaten to death? No one offered one.
"One child died and the only good thing to come out of this situation is that the other children may be saved," said Baltimore Circuit Judge Elsbeth Levy Bothe, who yesterday sentenced Winterstein to 30 years in prison.
Winterstein, dressed in faded jeans and a green blouse, showed no emotion. She declined to address the court before sentencing.
David Michael Winterstein died May 31, 1990, after being beaten, burned with cigarettes and suspended by his arms from an upper bunk bed in Winterstein's Highlandtown home. Prosecutors said Winterstein and her boyfriend punished David for regressing 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.
"She's not a mother," the judge said. "She's a monster."
The defense painted a portrait of a submissive woman who has been physically and sexually abused her whole life. The prosecution called David's treatment "torture" and asked for a 30-year sentence -- the maximum for second-degree murder -- to protect the two older children.
The children, ages 10 and 8 when David died last year, were known to go to school dirty and do poorly in classes, prosecutor Laura Mullally said. The children, now in foster care with relatives, are doing well and their grades have improved.
"These kids deserve a chance to develop into adults before their mother is released," she said.
Winterstein, 30, pleaded guilty March 19 to a count of second-degree murder. 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. Prosecutors will ask for a 30-year term at sentencing May 31.
Dr. Ellen McDaniel, a psychiatrist called by the defense, said Winterstein was sexually abused by her father and kept it a secret for many years. Later, she was physically abused by her husband, whom she met through her father, but never followed up on criminal charges stemming from the beatings. Winterstein was "emotionally and intellectually handicapped," she said.
"To be beaten was a way of life for her," McDaniel said. "It was very primitive thinking."
Winterstein's abusive husband, an alcoholic, died last year of a heart attack, said Patrick O'Guinn, an assistant public defender. Redden moved in with her a day later.
"In essence, she was a born battered spouse," O'Guinn said.
Prosecutor Laura Mullally said David was "tortured."
"Idamae Winterstein did not pick on somebody her own size," Mullally said. "She picked on the most vulnerable member of her family. When someone tortures a vulnerable individual to death, like David Winterstein was tortured, I suggest the court give them the maximum."
In a videotaped confession to police, 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.