JANUARY 11, 19:16 EST

Mom Who Killed Daughter Loses Son

Associated Press Writer

ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) — A judge on Tuesday awarded a white police officer custody of a 3-year-old black boy whose mother admitted smothering her infant daughter in 1992.

The case pitted supporters of Montgomery County Officer Laura Blankman, who has cared for the toddler since he was 3 months old, against those who contended a black child would fare better with a black biological parent who had turned her life around.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Louise Scrivener also ruled that the boy, Cornilous, must spend one night a week with his mother, LaTrena Pixley, 26. But Pixley must continue with individual therapy and prove that she has food, electricity, a working phone and $50 in cash before each visit.

``The judge focused on the child's safety,'' said Blankman's attorney, Nancy Poster.

The ruling devastated Pixley, who is considering an appeal, said her attorney, Ralph E. Hall Jr. ``She was so upset she had to leave work,'' he said.

Tuesday's decision reversed an earlier ruling. In 1998, Circuit Court Judge Michael D. Mason ruled the boy must be returned to his mother, focusing attention on a Maryland law that protects the rights of biological parents.

Maryland's Court of Special Appeals upheld Mason's ruling. But in February 1999, the state's highest court asked Mason to consider whether the boy was in danger of abuse if returned to his mother.

``A parent, after all, has no right, fundamental or otherwise, to abuse or neglect his or her children,'' Appeals Court Judge Alan Wilner wrote in the 15-page opinion.

Pixley pleaded guilty in March 1993 to second-degree murder after she admitted smothering her daughter, Nakya Dannyell Scott, and dumping her body in the trash.

Pixley was never sent to prison on that charge, however. A District of Columbia Superior Court judge placed her on probation, saying she was suffering from postpartum depression.

But in 1996, shortly after Cornilous was born, Pixley was jailed for violating her probation — being charged with credit card fraud.

It was then that she asked Blankman, whom she had known from contacts with the District of Columbia Public Defender's Office, to care for her son. A year later Blankman filed for custody.

During custody proceedings, John B. Mealy, a court-ordered psychologist said he believed there was a risk Pixley would neglect the child, but Joann Bragg, Pixley's private therapist, testified Pixley is emotionally stable and ``ready to resume parenting her son.''

Copyright 2000 Associated Press.