CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - A North Carolina woman pleaded guilty Monday to killing her 15-month-old niece in a case in which social workers are accused of ignoring, then covering up the child's abuse until after her death.
Ladybird Powell, 39, of Bryson City pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, extortion, possession of drug paraphernalia and two counts of felony child abuse.
A judge sentenced Powell to 12 years in prison.
She was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in January 2012 - one year after Aubrey Littlejohn's death.
Powell had begun taking care of Aubrey shortly before the toddler's mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, reported to jail in April 2010 in a marijuana-trafficking case. Littlejohn was in jail when her daughter died.
The plea is the latest development in a case that has stunned and polarized western North Carolina and sparked anger in the Native American community.
Aubrey was a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Some of them say the Swain County Department of Social Services did not do enough to protect Aubrey and other Native American children.