Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Woman Convicted in Death of Girl, 4 Father's Girlfriend Shook Her, Jury Finds

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Woman Convicted in Death of Girl, 4 Father's Girlfriend Shook Her, Jury Finds

Article excerpt

A jury in St. Charles County on Tuesday found Janet Candela guilty of shaking to death Amber Lynn Okai, the 4-year-old daughter of Candela's boyfriend.

The jury recommended that Candela serve 27 years in prison, and for that, Amber's mother was grateful. But Diana Okai remains full of regrets and questions about her daughter's death in 1992.

"I wish I could've been a window in their kitchen just one day," she said.

"How much screaming did (Amber) do before she died?"

Okai, 35, said that in December 1991, "I started seeing bruises in strange places." One was a bruise across Amber's ear. Another was a pattern of dots over the top of her head. "It looked like somebody took a hairbrush and went, `Pop!' " she said.

"I'd ask (Amber) and she wouldn't give an answer," Diana Okai said.

Keith Okai cut off her visits at the end of that January, she said. She said she wanted to get custody of Amber in a divorce but couldn't afford the $2,000 to $7,000 her attorney said it would cost. She considered calling a child abuse hot line but said she had hesitated.

What firefighters saw when Candela appeared Feb. 20, 1992, on the doorstep of a firehouse in O'Fallon was Amber draped like a rag doll over her arms.

Amber was unconscious and barely breathing. Firefighters, doctors and a physician described Amber as emaciated, jaundiced and spotted like a dalmatian with bruises. Most noticeable was a new bruise on her forehead and over the top of the head. Witnesses said they could see it clearly because she was nearly bald. Dr. Mary Case, the county's medical examiner, said Amber was 39 inches tall and weighed just 28 pounds.

Amber died four days later at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis.

Candela, 30, who took care of the child while her father worked, was charged with second-degree murder and with child abuse. …

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