The Waukegan woman who pleaded guilty to killing her 11-year-old daughter said she is taking responsibility for what she did and apologized during her sentencing hearing Friday in Lake County court.
Nicholette Lawrence gave an impassioned speech to Judge James Booras, saying she was "not in her right mind" when she punched her emaciated daughter, Raashanai Coley, in the stomach Sept. 3, 2014. Raashanai died two days later at a hospital.
"I am truly sorry for what has happened," Lawrence said, wiping away tears. "I am taking full responsibility for my actions ... I'm sorry to the people who have children, have seen this and been traumatized by it."
Waukegan firefighters had found the girl unresponsive at her Gillette Avenue house, authorities said. The Lake County coroner's office said the cause of death was blunt-force trauma; the punch caused a rib to perforate the stomach lining.
Lawrence was initially charged with 14 counts of first-degree murder but pleaded guilty to one count in October 2016. She faces 20 years to life in prison.
Testimony and attorney arguments ended in the sentencing hearing Friday. Booras said he wants to review the case and will rule Tuesday on Lawrence's prison sentence.
Authorities previously testified Raashanai's stomach was extremely bloated, there was vomit in multiple places in the room, and she wasn't breathing when paramedics arrived at the house.
Lawrence also admitted to police she had previously hit Raashanai with an extension cord, and authorities found evidence of old cigarette burns on her body.
Raashanai's brother said in a video played in court Thursday that the girl slept in a locked closet next to her parents' bed, and he saw Raashanai beaten with the belt. A video of the beating was captured on a cellphone and played during the two-day hearing.
Coroner officials initially said Raashanai, who was home-schooled, weighed 55 pounds when she died. Assistant State's Attorney Fred Day said the girl was 67 pounds when she died and looked like "something out of a prison camp."
"This incident wasn't an accident, a slip, or a one-time event," Day said. "Her mother saw Raashanai as something less than human."
Defense attorney Keith Grant argued Lawrence was caught in a "cycle of violence" throughout her life, was a teenage runaway, was forced to be an exotic entertainer, and was physically and sexually abused by her parents.
He asked Booras to give Lawrence a "sliver of hope" of being freed in her lifetime.
"She understands what she has done and accepts responsibility for it," Grant said.