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Guilty plea made in abuse of 21-month-old

A West Baltimore woman, who lost custody of her son in 1999 for harming him, pleaded guilty yesterday to child abuse for shaking and nearly killing a 21-month-old girl in her care more than a year ago.

Bernice Gilmore, 25, of the 2500 block of Boyd St. could receive up to nine years in prison when she is sentenced Aug. 2 by Judge John P. Miller. Gilmore, who was indicted last month on charges including attempted first-degree murder and reckless endangerment, pleaded guilty to child abuse in exchange for prosecutors dropping the other charges.

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She was accused of shaking Keonna Emmons on April 4 last year, causing the child to be hospitalized in critical condition at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Doctors told detectives that Keonna's injuries, which included severe head injuries and cigarette burns, were consistent with abuse and not from a fall down stairs, as Gilmore had claimed.

Doctors are trying to determine if Keonna will suffer any permanent damage as a result of the injuries, according to Assistant State's Attorney Julie Drake, who prosecuted the case.

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Gilmore, eight months' pregnant when Keonna was injured, had taken the girl into her home in January last year after Keonna's mother, Jacqueline Marshall, was arrested on a drug charge, Drake said.

When a social worker at the Baltimore City Detention Center asked Keonna's mother whom she wanted to care for the girl while she was detained, Marshall requested her cousin, Christopher Marshall, said the state's attorney's office. He had been dating Gilmore and was the father of Gilmore's unborn baby, the prosecutor's office said.

The little girl was turned over to Christopher Marshall -- and, as a result, came to be in Gilmore's custody -- without notifying the city Department of Social Services and without a background check, according to the state's attorney's office.

Norris West, a spokesman for the state Department of Human Resources, said jail officials are not required to notify the Department of Social Services of such custody matters.

In 1999, Child Protective Services had taken Gilmore's then-14-month-old son because of abusive behavior by Gilmore that included throwing the boy against a wall, according to police documents. That child lives with Gilmore's mother.

After her arrest, Gilmore gave birth to another child, who is in foster care.

Gilmore's case is one of several high-profile child abuse incidents this year that have forced the city Department of Social Services to review its procedures for identifying potential abusive relationships before incidents occur.

Last month, a mother and father were charged with killing their month-old twin daughters. The 17-year-old mother's first child had previously been taken away because of abuse.

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In March, a mother was charged with smothering her 18-month-old daughter.


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