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Former Warwick woman pleads to manslaughter and child neglect; sentencing date scheduled

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced that a former Warwick woman pleaded to manslaughter and child neglect charges in Kent County Superior Court stemming from her actions that caused the death of 9-year-old Zhanae Rothgeb at her home in Warwick in 2019.

Michelle Rothgeb (age 58) entered a plea of nolo contendere to one count of manslaughter, eight counts of child cruelty and neglect, and one count of animal cruelty at a hearing today before Superior Court Justice Daniel A. Procaccini.

Rothgeb is scheduled for a sentencing hearing in Providence County Superior Court on November 3, 2021.

Had the case proceeded to a trial, the State was prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that on January 3, 2019, Rothgeb was negligent in the care of her 9-year-old child, Zhanae Rothgeb, causing her death at a home on Oakland Beach Avenue in Warwick.

Prior to that day, Rothgeb served as the caretaker to eight adopted children between the ages of two and 15, nearly all with special needs, including Zhanae, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

On January 3, 2019, members of the Warwick Police Department and emergency medical personnel responded to a service call for an unresponsive child at Rothgeb's home. When first responders arrived, they found an unresponsive Zhanae, who they rushed to Kent Hospital. Zhanae was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

Officers also found that Rothgeb's home was in a derelict state, littered with garbage, food waste, used diapers, insects, and human and animal feces.

During the course of the investigation, the medical examiner determined that Zhanae's death was caused by "complications of cerebral palsy, exacerbated by child neglect." Investigators determined that Zhanae had been left in a bathtub, unattended by Rothgeb, for nearly eight hours that day.

Also during their investigation, law enforcement determined that Rothgeb had not cared for Zhanae, nor her other adopted children in the time leading up to Zhanae's death. Rothgeb routinely tasked her 15-year-old adopted son to care for the rest of the children.

Investigators further discovered that Rothgeb had not given Zhanae her medication that was prescribed to her to prevent seizures.

Rothgeb also owned a dog that investigators found in an emaciated state that ultimately had to be humanely euthanized.

Following officers' response to Rothgeb's home, the remainder of the children were placed with new caretakers by the Department of Children, Youth, and Families.

Assistant Attorney General Laura A. Nicholson of the Office of the Attorney General and Detectives Melissa Marano, Pat McGaffigan, and Sokphannareth Chea of the Warwick Police Department led the investigation and prosecution of the case.

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