Her family’s attorney said the most Kylie Mickens ever weighed was 18 pounds due to a genetic disorder that made it difficult for her to gain weight. Her weight often fluctuated, the attorney said, and when she died at age 5 she weighed less than 8 pounds.
Her mother, Porscha Danielle Mickens, was sentenced to 20 years of probation last week after entering an open-ended plea to second-degree murder and child cruelty charges. Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh said his office had argued for a sentence of 30 years, with 25 to be served in prison, saying it was one of the “most egregious cases of child neglect” he had ever seen.
But defense attorney Corinne Mull said Kylie was born with 1p36 deletion syndrome, a rare chromosomal deficiency that made it difficult for her to eat and drink. She died in 2020.
“Sometimes she would put on a little weight and she’d drop it suddenly,” Mull told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via phone. “That’s the explanation for this whole case, that the symptoms were vacillating weight gains and weight losses.”
Porscha Mickens and the girl’s father, Jerrail Maurice Mickens, were arrested four months after Kylie died and charged after an autopsy conducted by the GBI determined Kylie died as a result of malnutrition and dehydration due to medical neglect. Jerrail Mickens died this past November in a motorcycle crash in Atlanta.
When Kylie was born, Porscha Mickens was told she would only live until 2 years old, Mull said. The hospital asked her if she wanted to give the child up for adoption due to the disorder, but Mull said Mickens never considered that as a possibility.
Since then, Kylie was in and out of hospitals, staying 12 to 14 days at a time. But Mull said she was not gaining weight even while in the care of doctors, and no answers were being provided to the family. They were instead told to go to specialists.
“She would go to the specialists that she was sent to. She went to 14 of them before she put a stop to most of that,” Mull said. “Gastroenterologists, neurologists, just a variety of doctors, geneticists. She went to all of them.”
In 2018, Kylie had a nasal gastric tube installed that went straight to her stomach, Mull said. But when Mickens noticed that Kylie was able to keep down baby food and other blended foods, Mull said the mother decided to take the tube out at the recommendation of her holistic doctor.
“She was interested in giving (Kylie) something to taste and something she would enjoy as opposed to just dropping it in her stomach,” Mull said.
The day before Kylie died in June 2020, Mull said she was listless. Kylie was unresponsive when her parents took her to Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office said at the time. She was flown to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite and died the next day.
In court, about 15 people came to support Mickens and about half of them testified to her taking Kylie everywhere she went, feeding the child and being hands-on, Mull explained. Kylie even slept in Mickens’ room so she could check on the child through the night for any seizures, another symptom Mull said Kylie suffered from.
“If she had given up on the child, why would you have the child staying in your bedroom and checking her for seizures? It just doesn’t make sense,” Mull said.
Hall County Assistant District Attorney Anna Fowler showed pictures to Superior Court Judge C. Andrew Fuller of Kylie “looking like a mummy,” the Gainesville Times reported.
“This child starved to death over months and months,” Fowler argued in court, according to the Times. “She was not getting enough food. She was getting no medical care that she needed. And that is why she died, when she did, how she did.”
The state also had a doctor testify, but Mull said she was able to show how the woman told two different stories in court.
“She said, ‘Oh, the child would have survived longer and would have been able to eat and swallow and would have been fine if she had been in the hospital.’ Whereas when she wrote her report, she said, ‘The child may possibly have gotten better,’” Mull said.
A former nurse who read through the medical records also testified after flagging areas where the hospital had failed the child, according to Mull.
“There was no proof that she was being given any type of explanation, genetic counseling, nobody checking upon discharge that she understood. None of the forms were filled out where it says, ‘I’ve been advised that my child has this and that, and I understand that I had been informed, and I understand what the prognosis is and what the treatment is.’ Those forms were left blank,” Mull said.
Mull believes that because Kylie was not gaining weight even while at the hospital, the judge found their argument more substantive.
“The judge was extremely thoughtful. He took copious notes,” Mull said. “He had thought through every different way and concluded that this was at most criminal negligence. And he pointed out that the hospital couldn’t keep her from losing weight, so how do we blame Porscha for that?”
Fuller did question Mickens’ decision to remove the gastric tube, but said there’s a certain amount of autonomy the law allows people to exercise in medical matters, according to Mull.
After hearing several hours of evidence, Fuller said he believed no prison time was warranted.
“It should go without saying that the court’s sentence does not lessen the value of Kylie’s life,” Fuller said in court. “Generally speaking, imprisonment is less of a sentence utilized and imposed when criminal negligence is at issue.”
Since the deaths of Kylie and Jerrail Mickens, Mull said Porscha Mickens has been distressed but that she has had a lot of support from her mother-in-law. Mickens’ two other children are now legally in the care of her mother-in-law, but she is able to see them as she wishes. Mull said that eventually Mickens will revoke the guardianship and try to get custody back.
“They were a close family, and one after another they lost members of the family. It’s very hard,” Mull said.
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