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The Associated Press

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (AP) – A man and four women who shared a home with their 13 children were charged with murder and child neglect Monday in the death of one child and the malnourishment of the others.

The 19-month-old toddler – whose bones were extremely brittle – was pronounced dead of severe malnutrition and neglect at a hospital in November after the women brought him in. The other children – ranging in age from 8 months to 16 years – were quickly put into emergency foster care.

All were severely malnourished and most suffered from rickets, a bone-softening disease almost unheard of in suburban America. It is caused by a lack of vitamin D or calcium.

Winnfred Wright, 45, and the women – Carol Bremner, 44, Mary Campbell, 37, Deirdre Wilson, 37, and Kali Polk-Matthews, 20 – were arrested Friday. They were held without bail for arraignment Monday.

Wright, Bremner, Campbell and Wilson each face charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Polk-Matthews faces one count of involuntary manslaughter. All face child endangerment charges.

His long hair in dreadlocks, Wright smiled at the women as they were led into court, shackled at their hands and waists. All declined to enter pleas.

Bremner, who lived with the others in San Francisco for years before moving to the upscale Marin County suburb of Marinwood several years ago, wore a white dust mask over her face. She is being treated for leukemia.

Campbell and Wilson are both pregnant, said Campbell’s public defender, Marta Osterloh. Osterloh challenged the hospital’s conclusion that the child died of neglect.

“There has been no coroner’s report, no autopsy report. We don’t know what the cause of death is,” Osterloh said outside court.

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Jail officials said the defendants were declining all requests for interviews. Other defense attorneys declined to comment.

None of the children were enrolled in public school, said Marin County sheriff’s Detective Fred Marziano. Neighbors rarely saw them emerge from the rental home, where heavy white drapes prevent any view of the inside.

“When they told us how many children were there, I nearly fell out of my shoes,” neighbor Connie Williams told the Marin Independent Journal. “We hardly ever saw them.”

Because the adults refused to cooperate, it took three months for police to unravel what went on inside the modest beige house. Authorities had to rely on DNA tests to determine that Wright fathered all the children. It was not clear who gave birth to the child who died.

“We don’t know exactly what their affiliation is together other than they are cohabiting and producing children,” Marziano said.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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