Despite at least three documented reports of neglect or abuse of Aubrey by her caretaker and aunt, Ladybird Powell, 39, local social workers allegedly allowed the woman to continue taking care of the girl. They are charged with ignoring and then, after her death, covering up reports of the child’s abuse, including reports of bruises, a broken arm and living in a house with no heat.
On Monday, Powell pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, extortion, possession of drug paraphernalia and two counts of felony child abuse in Swain County Superior Court. Powell, who was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in January 2012, a year following Aubrey’s death, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Powell assumed care of Aubrey after the toddler’s mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, was put in jail in April 2010 to await trial in a marijuana-trafficking case. Littlejohn was still incarcerated when her daughter died on January 10, 2011, after Powell rushed her to the emergency room. Littlejohn cried at Monday’s hearing and addressed the court: "I miss Aubrey every day," she said.
Littlejohn, along with family members led by great-aunt Ruth McCoy, repeatedly fought to have Aubrey removed from Powell’s home. Now they are tirelessly fighting for justice. Cherokee Principal Chief Michell Hicks was among those who demanded an investigation of the case.
The next step, said David Wiickickrama, a lawyer representing Aubrey’s estate, is to "bring justice to those employees of Swain County's Department of Social Services, who may have contributed to her death and were involved in the shameless cover up of their own failures to protect this loving and innocent child from abuse."