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Clinton Township

March 14, 2013

Fourth trial yields guilty verdict for grandmother

By Nico Rubello
C & G Staff Writer

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — A Clinton Township woman is responsible for the death of her 4-year-old grandson, a jury ruled on March 11.

The 12-person jury convicted Terry Rita Borgia, 63, of felony murder for the January 2010 drowning of DeAngelo Tobia in the bathtub of her Clinton Township apartment. She was babysitting the boy at the time.

Since then, Borgia has resided in jail. She had already spent more than three years behind bars by the time her fourth and most recent trial rolled around.

During the three-day trial, which ran March 6-8, the prosecution pointed to the fact that Terry Borgia didn’t call 911 and refused to help try to resuscitate the boy while her daughter, Tonina Borgia, did. She also told police on several occasions that she had filled the tub that morning and placed the boy, still sleeping and clothed, into the water.

Assistant Macomb County Prosecutor William Cataldo said during the trial that Borgia was guilty by virtue of “her words, her actions and her inactions.”

After listening to testimonies, an audio recording of the 911 call and videos of police interviews, the jury deliberated for several hours and returned with a guilty verdict on charges of felony murder and child abuse. The jury opted for the felony murder charge over alternate charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.

A felony murder charge carries a mandatory life sentence in prison. A sentencing is scheduled for April 17.

Borgia’s defense attorney, Mark Haddad, has consistently contended that Terry Borgia is taking the blame for her youngest daughter, Tonina Borgia, who, then 25 years old, was the only other person in the apartment at the time of the drowning.

Terry Borgia did not testify in the trial. Haddad said he feared that she was liable to admit guilt on the stand to cover for her daughter.

Haddad said he was disappointed with the jury’s decision.

“I don’t think the jury understood the case,” he said. “I don’t think they appreciated the extreme sacrifice this woman (Terry Borgia) was willing to make.”

This was the fourth trial in the case, though two of which ended for legal reasons before jury deliberations.

A series of strange twists have marred court proceedings in the case.

Terry Borgia was originally found incompetent to stand trial after her arrest in 2010, but later was deemed to be competent after treatment. She had struggled with depression in the past, even attempting suicide after the death of her husband in 2005.

Haddad said Tonina Borgia confessed to committing the crime to her sister. In April 2011, Tonina Borgia walked into the Clinton Township Police Department and also confessed to detectives. Police didn’t arrest her, nor did they press charges, not believing it to be an accurate confession, since she wasn’t able to provide details consistent with the case.

Tonina Borgia later testified that the faux confession had come at a time when she was off her medication.

Haddad said she had confessed to police just enough to clear her conscience, but not enough to implicate herself.

In February 2012, jury selection for a first trial was about to get under way when Terry Borgia, to the surprise of everyone in the courtroom, suddenly decided to plea no contest to the charges against her, effectively accepting a life sentence. She later withdrew the plea.

Then, in June 2012, a second trial was under way when attorneys from both sides realized that a warrant obtained by a detective to photograph bruises on Terry Borgia’s arms was invalid because the bruises had already been documented. Consequently, a mistrial was declared and an hour-long, taped interview — in which she made self-incriminating statements — had to be thrown out as evidence in subsequent trials.

In August 2012, the jury for another trial had been selected when the judge ruled a mistrial because Tonina Borgia — a key witness — was deemed unfit to testify after she was arrested two times in a little more than a week. 

The prosecution did call Tonina Borgia to the stand during a December trial, which eventually ended with a hung jury.

Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Peter Maceroni, who oversaw the case, ruled Tonina in contempt of court after she failed to show for her scheduled testimony on March 7.

Instead, her testimony from the December trial was read aloud to the jury, in which Tonina defended herself from allegations that she was responsible.

Haddad said Terry Borgia never complained about being in jail during the last three years. He said he will advise her to file an appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Nico Rubello at nrubello@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1118.