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Court upholds life sentence 7 years after girl, 15, strangles adoptive mom

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A 15-year-old and her sister killed their adoptive mother after too many confrontations about cell phone bills and boyfriends. They were sentenced to life in prison.

On Tuesday, more than seven years later, the Supreme Court of Georgia upheld the woman’s murder conviction and sentence after dismissing her attorney’s argument about her traumatic upbringing before she was adopted as a possible justification.

Catherine O’Connell was 11-years-old when Ms. Muriel O’Connell, of Gwinnett County, adopted her from a Guatemalan orphanage. A few years later, she adopted a second daughter, Brenda, from the same orphanage.

The girls were the same age, had known each other at the orphanage, and quickly formed a strong bond with each other.

But their relationship with their mother gradually deteriorated.

“There were confrontations over cell phone bills and boyfriends, and Muriel told friends she feared for her life,” according to court documents.

Prosecutors said Ms. O’Connell believed the girls were trying to poison her by putting diethyl ether, a compound found in car starter fluid, in her vodka bottle.

The night of Aug. 6, 2006, the girls went to a neighbor’s house. The neighbor later testified that when he answered the door, Brenda, who had a brown and green sash tied around her neck, collapsed on the floor gasping for air. He said her actions “seemed kind of staged.”

Catherine told him their mother had tried to choke Brenda and the neighbor went to the girls’ home where he found the woman’s body on the bathroom floor with a butcher knife in her hand.

Catherine and Brenda told police their mother had attacked Brenda with a knife, and Catherine had intervened to defend her sister.

They claimed Ms. O’Connell had abused and mistreated them since they came from the orphanage. But later Brenda admitted that she had placed the knife in Ms. O’Connell’s hand after she was dead.

“An autopsy revealed that Muriel had sustained multiple head injuries while still alive, and had died from strangulation,” according to court reports

“A medical examiner who had evaluated both girls testified he found no injuries substantiating their claim of self-defense. Brenda did not have injuries consistent with strangulation, and Catherine’s minor scrapes and bite marks appeared self-inflicted.”

In October 2008, the girls were tried as adults, and convicted of murder and aggravated assault.

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