Guardian: Children of parents accused in infant’s death were malnourished

Lamoy and Joseph Andressohn face up to 50 years in prison if convicted of manslaughter for the death of their 6-month-old daughter.

MIAMI — The children of manslaughter defendants Joseph and Lamoy Andressohn have each gained about 20 pounds and grown more than one foot since they were taken from their vegan parents, the children’s aunt and guardian told jurors Thursday.

The couple is accused of starving to death their 6-month-old daughter, Woyah, with a strict raw-vegetable diet and causing severe malnutrition in their surviving four children, who moved in with Joseph’s half-sister, Mary Andressohn, following Woyah’s death in June 2003.

The infant weighed less than 7 pounds and was 22 inches long when she fell into respiratory arrest at home and died on May 15, 2003. Her weight had actually decreased since her birth.

Earlier in the day, a nutritionist told jurors that a raw-foods-only diet is deficient in nutrients vital to the growth of an infant.

“The big concern with a vegan diet is if the child is eating enough to get the vitamins and minerals needed for growth,” said Sheah Rarback, a University of Miami nutrition expert.

“The caloric requirements in the first year of life are the highest because the child is growing the most,” said Rarback, who admitted she had no personal knowledge of the case. “The baby’s birth weight triples in the first year of life.”

Lamoy and Joseph Andressohn

“The Andressohns are members of the Hebrew Israelites, a group of African-Americans who consider themselves the true descendants of the biblical tribe of Judah. Members are referred to as saints, and many take the last name “Ben Israel,” meaning son of Israel. Some of their customs include wearing only natural fabrics and maintaining a vegan diet void of all animal byproducts. They forbid smoking, drinking, drugs and even caffeine.”
Baby’s starvation death under investigation

Lawyers for the defense dispute that the cause of death was malnutrition and claim that Woyah suffered from congenital birth defects.

The couple faces up to 50 years in prison for Woyah’s death.

Mary Andressohn avoided eye contact with the defendants Thursday as she testified that the children were healthy and happy in her home, where she feeds them a diet of meat, cooked vegetables and occasional sweets, in contrast to their former diet of raw vegetables, fruit and coconut milk.

The three boys and a girl were suffering from a variety of ailments, she testified, from pneumonia to asthma when they came to live with her.

In comparing the children to when they lived with their parents, Mary Andressohn described them as looking like “starved Ethiopians” from a “Save the Children” commercial.

“They were energetic, but small and short,” said Mary Andressohn, a supervisor with the Department of Homeland Security.

Defense attorneys sought to cast the witness, a single woman with no children of her own, as a spinster desperate to claim the Andressohn children for herself.

“Are you seeking permanent custody of the four children?” defense attorney Robert Barrar asked the witness regarding her reasons for testifying.

“If they get convicted, yes,” she said. “If they don’t get convicted, no.”

In a tense cross-examination, punctuated by Judge Stanford Blake ordering co-counsel Ellis Rubin not to call the witness “Aunt Mary,” her fitness as a guardian was also called into question, and she grew evasive as she was questioned about abuse allegations.

“Didn’t the Child Protective Services advise you that you were under investigation for locking the children in a tool shed?” Rubin asked. “Didn’t they also accuse you of other unusual forms of punishment, including stuffing a towel in a child’s mouth?”

“Never heard that one,” the witness testily responded.

She admitted that the Department of Children and Families visited the home once and photographed the children based on allegations she had beaten them with a belt.

“There were no marks, and the case was closed,” she said.

Court resumes Monday, depending on anticipated weather conditions.

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Oct. 20, 2005
Emanuella Grinberg

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