WARWICK, R.I (WPRI) — A Warwick woman charged in the death of her adopted daughter more than two years ago was back in court Wednesday, where she pleaded no contest to all of the charges against her.
Michele Rothgeb was arrested in January 2019 after 9-year-old Zhanae Rothgeb, who had cerebral palsy, was found unresponsive in a bathtub inside her Oakland Beach Avenue home. She’s been in police custody ever since she turned herself in for violating her bail last year.
Police said Zhanae had been left to play by herself in the tub for hours and was being cared for at the time by her 15-year-old brother, who has Asperger’s syndrome.
Rothgeb has been charged with manslaughter, as well as seven counts of child neglect ─ one for each of her adopted children. She was also charged with one count of animal cruelty. She accepted a plea deal Wednesday and will continue to be held without bail pending her sentencing, which is scheduled for Nov. 3.
Zhanae’s death spurred change within the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). A report issued soon after Zhanae’s death revealed Rothgeb should not have been licensed as a foster parent. It also determined DCYF was partially to blame.
Since Zhanae’s death, DCYF has capped the number of children who can live in a foster home at five, though some homes still have up to eight children because they were grandfathered in. DCYF confirmed those homes have since been reassessed and were not found to be in violation.