Former Warwick woman sentenced to serve 18 years in
state prison for manslaughter in death of 9-year-old
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced that a former Warwick woman was sentenced in Providence County Superior Court to serve 18 years at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) after pleading to manslaughter and child neglect charges stemming from her actions that caused the death of nine-year-old Zhanae Rothgeb at her home in Warwick in 2019.
On August 25, 2021, Michelle Rothgeb (age 58) entered a plea of nolo contendere to one count of manslaughter, eight counts of child cruelty and neglect, and one count of animal cruelty.
At a hearing today before Superior Court Justice Daniel A. Procaccini, the Court sentenced the defendant to 30 years at the ACI with 15 years to serve and the balance of the sentence suspended with probation. The Court also sentenced the defendant to serve a consecutive three-year sentence at the ACI.
Had the case proceeded to a trial, the State was prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that on January 3, 2019, Rothgeb was negligent in the care of her nine-year-old child, Zhanae Rothgeb, causing her death at a home on Oakland Beach Avenue in Warwick.
Prior to that day, Rothgeb served as the caretaker to eight adopted children between the ages of 2 and 15. Nearly all of the children had special needs, including Zhanae, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
On January 3, 2019, members of the Warwick Police Department and emergency medical personnel responded to a service call for an unresponsive child at Rothgeb's home. When first responders arrived, they found an unresponsive Zhanae, who they rushed to Kent Hospital. Zhanae was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
Officers also found that Rothgeb's home was in a derelict state, littered with garbage, food waste, used diapers, insects, and human and animal feces.
During the investigation, the medical examiner determined that Zhanae's death was caused by "complications of cerebral palsy, exacerbated by child neglect." Investigators determined that Zhanae had been left in a bathtub, unattended by Rothgeb, for nearly eight hours that day.
Law enforcement also determined during their investigation that Rothgeb had not cared for Zhanae, nor her other adopted children in the time leading up to Zhanae's death. Rothgeb routinely tasked her 15-year-old adopted son to care for the other children.
Investigators further discovered that Rothgeb had not given Zhanae her medication, which was prescribed to her to prevent seizures.
Rothgeb also owned a dog that investigators found in an emaciated state and ultimately had to be humanely euthanized.
Following officers' response to Rothgeb's home, the remainder of the children were placed with new caretakers by the Department of Children, Youth, and Families.
Detectives Melissa Marano, Pat McGaffigan, and Sokphannareth Chea of the Warwick Police Department and Assistant Attorney General Laura A. Nicholson of the Office of the Attorney General led the investigation and prosecution of the case.