Nicole Diggs, 32, is facing charges in New York for the 2012 murder of her daughter, Alayah Saverese, 8, who was severely disabled. In a cruel twist, she may be allowed to inherit money from her daughter’s trust fund, regardless of whether she is convicted of the crime. Diggs, who worked as a tenured special education teacher, is accused of depriving her daughter of medical care and food. Alayah’s cause of death was listed by the medical examiner as attributable to a seizure condition and cerebral palsy.
Diggs and her husband, Oscar Thomas, 29, have both entered not guilty pleas to charges of child endangerment and negligent homicide in the death of Alayah who, due to her umbilical cord being severed during her birth, was without oxygen, which caused her to have seizures, cerebral palsy and a inability to control her limbs. She was unable to talk, walk or feed herself. Thomas is not Alayah’s father.
On the day of her death, Thomas left Alayah in their Yonkers apartment with a friend of his who was not trained in how to feed her through a tube nor was he versed in how to tell if Alayah was having medical problems. She was discovered that afternoon with a ruptured stomach. It was determined that she had been dead between four t0 six hours prior to the time that emergency personnel arrived, although Thomas’ friend claimed that he had checked in on the girl twice during the morning.
The approximately $2.1 million trust fund for which Alayah was the beneficiary was set up after the settling of the malpractice suit filed because of the complications that occurred during her birth. A portion of the settlement money went toward the purchase of a $35,000 van used to transport Alayah. Funds also went to remodel a home that Diggs and Thomas were preparing to purchase in order to make it accessible for Alayah.
Westchester County prosecutors allege that Diggs and her husband did not provide Alayah with enough food each day, left her alone frequently and did not send her to school regularly. In addition, they are accused of not providing her with needed medical care as well as not ensuring that she received necessary therapy. Diggs did receive Medicaid to help with Alayah’s care, but she did not take advantage of other programs made available to her.
According to authorities, the girl had cuts, swelling and bruising as a result of the neglect. In addition, Diggs and Thomas did not care for her hygiene, which caused Alayah to “have smelly and dirty hair and clothing, a foul odor about her body and bleeding gums,” as mentioned in court papers.
The Office of Children and Family Services, in a report filed after the death of Alayah, lists a number of complaints as well as multiple home visits by caseworkers. One complaint described the girl as being so dirty that staff members of her school washed her. After shampooing her hair, the report indicates that “the water was black from the dirt.” Some of the complaints were dismissed as unfounded. The report did find, however, that Alayah had not received adequate medical care or guardianship, although it found “no causal connection” between those factors and the death of the girl.
New York prosecutors have not accused Diggs of causing Alayah’s death in order to collect the trust fund, but the attorney for Diggs maintains that they are implying it. She said that Diggs did not neglect her daughter and wants any reference to the trust fund to be prohibited from trial. According to the defense, Diggs refused pressure to put Alayah in an institution and instead raised her with her family’s assistance while she earned a masters’s degree. She has filed motions with the court asking for the charges to be dismissed. A response to that request and a reply to other issues by the prosecution should occur this week. If convicted, the maximum sentence Diggs would receive is a prison term of four years. Thomas’ lawyer would make no comment regarding the case.
Because Diggs has not been charged with intentionally causing Alayah’s death, she is still eligible to inherit the trust fund money. St. John’s Law School professor Margaret Turano, who is an expert in estate and trust issues, explains that unlike other states in which a convicted person is not permitted to profit from their crime, the precedent in New York courts is that if there is no intent to kill, a victim’s inheritance can still be claimed.
If Diggs does inherit the trust fund, it could to be challenged in Westchester County Surrogate’s Court, which is a separate court which has named a bank as administrator of Alayah’s estate. The father of Ayalah, Anthony Savarese, has not been charged in Alayah’s death and is set to receive half of her trust fund. His lawyer would not comment as to whether Savarese plans to challenge the inheritance by Diggs.
Although Diggs had earned about $70,000 per year while teaching at P.S. 152 Evergreen Elementary School in Bronx, New York, she is no longer allowed to interact with students, and as such has been moved out of the school and restricted to administration only. She is not permitted to use Alayah’s trust fund to pay for her defense, and has been appointed an attorney by the courts.
By Jennifer Pfalz