Slain mother strangled during fight

LAWRENCEVILLE - A Buford woman was strangled to death during a fight with her two 15-year-old daughters about other kids they were spending time with at the neighborhood pool, according to court testimony.

Details about 57-year-old Muriel O'Connell's death have been closely guarded by police ever since they began investigating what they termed a "suspicious death" on Sunday. Little information was disclosed about why O'Connell's two adopted teenage daughters were arrested, except that one girl was charged with misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter and the other with misdemeanor tampering with evidence.

The names of the girls have not been released because they are juveniles.

However, in an unusual move Tuesday afternoon, a Gwinnett County Juvenile Court judge opened a detention hearing for the two girls to media, bringing more details in the case to light. Juvenile court proceedings are typically closed to the public to protect the identities of youthful offenders.

"I was really surprised at the judge's decision," said Assistant District Attorney Dan Mayfield. "I had made a case why it should be closed, and defense counsel agreed."

Defense attorneys Hilary Krepistman and Stacy Levy could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

In the hearing Tuesday, Detective Marcus Head testified that O'Connell and her two daughters began arguing because the girls were hanging out with some kids whom O'Connell considered undesirable at the neighborhood pool. The girls told police that their mother grew irate and attacked one of them with a kitchen knife and later with a piece of cloth.

"Their statements were that the mother placed the piece of cloth around one of the girls' necks and was choking the girl," Mayfield said. "The other girl intervened and allegedly strangled her mother."

After O'Connell was unconscious, the girls allegedly picked up the knife from the floor and placed it into their mothers' hand. The 15-year-olds then went to a neighbor's house, where they told the neighbor they were in a fight with their mother and that she was dead, according to police.

One of the girls did sustain some slight scratch marks on one of her arms, and the other had faint bruising on her neck, Mayfield said.

There is also evidence that O'Connell told a neighbor shortly before her death that she was afraid of her daughters and concerned they might try to hurt her, Mayfield said. The daughters were both adopted from Guatemala and lived with O'Connell in an upper middle-class Buford subdivision.

As the investigation continues, officials with the Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office did not rule out the possibility of seeking more charges against the 15-year-olds.

"At this point we have a lot more questions than we do answers," Mayfield said. "This investigation will be continuing. As we learn facts if there are changes to the charges, we will make those at that time."

A trial in juvenile court is scheduled for Nov. 9.