Catalina Marista Bruno, whose 11-month-old son broiled to death in a sealed car while Bruno slept in her Miami home last year, pleaded guilty Wednesday to manslaughter and child neglect. She will leave a Miami jail a little more than a year after her toddler died.
But Bruno will not be entirely free: An acknowledged alcoholic whose abuse of alcohol was tied to her son’s death, Bruno will be admitted immediately into a residential treatment center.
Bruno’s guilty plea before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Samantha Ruiz-Cohen is the sad epilogue to a saga that essentially claimed an entire family: Bryan; his father, Amos Glen Osceola, who plunged his car into a canal and died two days before the anniversary of Bryan’s death; and Bruno, who remains overwhelmed by grief, her attorney said.
Bruno, 28, was charged with aggravated manslaughter after Bryan succumbed to hyperthermia while locked in his mother’s car May 16, 2013. In addition to the toddler, Bruno’s Chevy Impala also contained her purse and a can of beer.
Bryan’s death led to the resignation of an investigator and supervisor at the Department of Children & Families, and, along with the deaths of dozens of other children in the summer and fall of 2013, set in motion the resignation of then-DCF Secretary David Wilkins. Agency administrators acknowledged that an investigation into Bryan’s welfare six months before his death was badly botched and might have included references to an alcohol abuse evaluation that never occurred.
“If DCF had done their job, they would have taken Bryan away, most likely given him to his grandmother, his mother would have gone to [alcohol treatment], and Bryan would be alive today,” said Lonnie Richardson, Bruno’s attorney. “His father would also be alive today, and Catalina would be celebrating a year of sobriety.”
Under the terms of the agreement Bruno signed Wednesday, Bruno pleaded guilty to child neglect in connection with a drunk driving incident in which she was found passed out behind the wheel of a car still in drive, with then-infant Bryan unrestrained in her lap. She also pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter for Bryan’s subsequent death. Bruno was given credit for the year or so she already served and will be released to a substance abuse treatment program.
“There shall be no drinking,” Ruiz Cohen instructed a sobbing Bruno, as a condition of her five years’ probation.
Ed Griffith, a spokesman for Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, said prosecutors agreed to the generous plea deal after the death of Bryan’s father badly eroded the state’s case.
“The child’s father, who was an essential witness in our case against Catalina Bruno, died in an automobile accident. The car went into a body of water on the same day that he visited the defendant in custody,” Griffith said. “Lacking this essential witness, our criminal case was severely damaged. Hence the agreed-upon plea.”
Richardson, Bruno’s attorney, insists the state agreed to the deal because prosecutors were fearful they could not sustain a conviction. Bruno, Richardson said, had been suffering from a severe form of postpartum depression. Richardson said he planned to present testimony from several mental health professionals that Bruno was nearly catatonic around the time of Bryan’s death. Before then, Richardson said, she was a good mother.
Her husband’s death robbed Bruno of any interest in fighting, her attorney said.
“When he died, that woman lost all hope,” Richardson said.