Sitting in a Baltimore courtroom yesterday, Darnetta Heath held up a framed photograph of her granddaughter, Renee Hicks. She displayed the 11-by-14-inch portrait, taken when the girl was 7 months old and smiling, as Renee's mother pleaded guilty to manslaughter and child abuse in the infant's beating death.
"I have nothing but Renee's memory," said Ms. Heath, 41. "I don't have her. I'm close to her picture."
The girl -- whose last name is just one of the many items in dispute -- died last December after being struck repeatedly on the head. She was 10 1/2 months old.
Her death has spawned a case that pits at least three families against each other, a case in which a mother was scheduled to testify against her daughter and a girlfriend is scheduled to testify against her boyfriend.
The baby's mother, 20-year-old Giselle Hicks, faces up to 15 years in prison in the death.
Prosecutor Rex Schultz said Hicks came to authorities Friday and, for the first time, admitted striking her daughter Dec. 1 and Dec. 2 in her home in the 1200 block of Argyle Ave. Hicks said she hit the girl at least three times because the baby wouldn't stop chewing on an electrical cord but that the lethal blows were struck by her boyfriend, Tyrone Myrick, Mr. Schultz told the court.
Mr. Myrick -- who is not the baby's father -- has told police that Hicks beat the child.
Under the terms of her plea agreement, Hicks, who had faced a murder charge, will be available to testify against her boyfriend when he stands trial for murder starting today in Circuit Court.
The tension between Hicks and Mr. Myrick's family was evident in an encounter yesterday in a courthouse hallway. After Hicks was released on her own recognizance to await her Nov. 12 sentencing date, she encountered Diane James, Mr. Myrick's sister.
Amid the shouting and name-calling, a man restrained Ms. James while Hicks ducked into a restroom. Ms. James said Hicks had threatened her.
Not all of the tension is between families. Hicks' mother, Barbara Whittle, had been scheduled to testify that Hicks balked at summoning an ambulance for the unconscious child because questions of abuse would have been raised. She was to have told a jury that Hicks and Mr. Myrick cooked up a story saying the baby had hit her head after falling out of bed.
Even the slain baby's name is in dispute. Mr. Schultz referred to her as Renee Hicks, the name under which she was hospitalized, but Ms. Heath produced a document showing the baby's name was Renee Threshelle Heath. She said her son, Edward Heath, is the baby's father and that she raised the child for about six months.
Ms. Heath also said she called the Baltimore Department of Social Services last October to complain that Renee, her only grandchild, was being neglected. That could not be substantiated, an agency spokeswoman said after the couple's arrest.
After Hicks was arrested, her 2-year-old daughter Ashley was placed in the custody of the social-services agency. Hicks has custody of another child, now 2 months old.
Ms. Heath said she has not talked to Hicks since Renee's death.
"What can I say to her? She took my granddaughter," Ms. Heath said. "I have nothing but Renee's memory."
Ms. Heath probably won't be carrying the portrait when Mr. Myrick's trial begins today. Mr. Schultz, the prosecutor, said Judge Clifton J. Gordy warned that showing the photograph to the jury probably would lead to a mistrial.