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updated: 5/28/2014 11:25 AM

5-year-old girl's death still haunts investigators

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By DOUGLAS WALKER
The Star Press

MUNCIE, Ind. -- Eleven months after her battered, torn body was found in a house in Muncie's Whitely neighborhood, and even with her cousin now convicted of murder in her death, local authorities still know relatively little about Marie Pierre.

"We've tried to gather as much (information) about her as we can, but we really don't know much about her," Delaware County Prosecutor Jeffrey Arnold told The Star Press . "Other than she was a healthy little 5-year-old girl who should have had the rest of her life ahead of her."

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Marie died in a house in the 1000 block of North Brady Street on the night of June 22, 2013. A pathologist later found the child's body showed signs of long-term abuse and torture, with more than 80 scars, bruises and burns.

Beyond her remains, authorities found little in the house to reflect Marie had spent her final months there, other than two plastic bags containing her clothing. She apparently had no toys.

At the end of a two-week trial last Friday, a jury found the victim's 30-year-old cousin, Charlene Tabb, guilty of murder and neglect charges in Marie's death, along with other charges stemming from Tabb's physical abuse of her younger siblings.

Arnold has been involved in prosecuting homicide cases since the 1980s and said he could not recall a single trial in which at least one representative of a slaying victim, and usually several of their family members and friends, had not attended.

At least until Tabb's Delaware Circuit Court 5 trial this month. No one who knew Marie during her brief life was there on her behalf.

"She did not have anybody," the prosecutor said. "(Chief Trial Deputy Prosecutor Eric Hoffman) and I were literally her only voice. We will be her only voice at sentencing."

Jacki Clamme, victim advocate for the Muncie Police Department, sat in on much of the Tabb trial. She said Tuesday that she had tried to offer her office's support and services to Marie's father. Sadieufait Pierre, 41 -- who reportedly divides his time between Florida and Haiti, where his daughter was born in November 2007 -- never responded to messages left by the victim advocate at a family member's Florida home.

Pierre -- whose sister, Evelyn, is Charlene Tabb's mother -- came to Muncie in the immediate wake of his child's death, and again a few months later, that time to offer his support for a significant bond reduction for Tabb.

Sadieufait Pierre was not at the trial that ended with his niece being found guilty of killing his daughter.

Muncie police Sgt. Jimmy Gibson has photos of two children on a bulletin board in his office. One is Lauren McConniel, who was 5 when she died after months of abuse by her stepmother and others in 2010.

The other photo is of Marie Pierre.

Reviewing interviews he did with relatives of Charlene Tabb and her victim in the wake of last summer's slaying, Gibson said Tuesday that Marie apparently came to live with Tabb's parents -- and their three youngest children -- in their Miami home when she was 2.

(Sadieufait Pierre last year told Muncie police that his daughter's mother, also named Marie, lived in Haiti and was "very ill," Gibson said.)

Whether plans originally called for Marie to permanently remain in the United States is unclear, but after Haiti was devastated by an earthquake in January 2010, a decision was made for Marie to remain with her Florida relatives.

In July 2012, the children living in the Miami home, including Marie, came to Muncie to stay with Charlene Tabb and her husband. Testimony at the trial indicated a belief the youngsters could receive a better education in Indiana, and complications involving the Florida parents' work schedules, were key factors in that move.

When the traveling party arrived at the Tabbs' North Brady Street home that month, Marie Pierre had 50 weeks to live. Testimony at her trial indicated Charlene Tabb became increasingly angry when her young cousin began to routinely vomit after eating. Tabb began abusing the child, and eventually recruited two of her siblings to join in the escalating violence, acting "like a pack of wild animals," Hoffman told jurors.

Among the most haunting of videos shown to jurors in the trial was one that showed what was ostensibly a happy day in the Tabb home, a few weeks before Marie died.

Another 5-year-old girl, the daughter of Charlene Tabb's older brother, was visiting, and a laughing Charlene is seen chasing her wildly giggling niece, threatening to "get you!"

At times, the pursuit led the participants past the corner of the dining room where Marie was apparently forced to spend most of her final days and nights -- and where she would later die.

Marie -- her body seemingly already swollen as a result of her many injuries; her hair, once worn in braids, long since chopped off at Tabb's direction -- laughs as the other child squeals with delight, but she does not move or attempt to join in the fun.

Arnold, apologizing for his profanity, told jurors the little girl behaved like "a dog that's had the ---- kicked out of it."

(City police Sgt. Linda Cook said Tuesday that the other 5-year-old girl later provided investigators with key information in their probe of Marie's death.)

Gibson -- who sat with Arnold and Hoffman at the prosecution table during the two-week trial -- said he had slept significantly better since its conclusion. The photo of Marie will remain above his desk.

"I hope she's not forgotten," he said.

That seems unlikely, at least among those who found themselves the little girl's only advocates when her tormentor stood trial.

"This is the kind of case you can't get out of your mind," Arnold said.

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