Mike Nealey said he has mixed feelings about the woman who pleaded guilty this week to murdering his 23-month-old toddler, Elijah.
“It’s hard to explain. Of course I’m angry. I hate her, but my feelings have been just so mixed up over the past year,” said Nealey, just hours after 22-year-old Jessica Fraraccio appeared in a Manassas courtroom on Monday and admitted to charges that she killed Elijah at his family’s home in Aug. 22, 2012, just weeks before his second birthday.
Her felony child abuse and felony murder charges together carry a maximum penalty of 50 years in prison, Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert said.
She was arrested in March and indicted in May after an extensive Manassas Police investigation revealed the boy died of suffocation and that his death was not an accident, as Fraraccio had originally told police.
Fraraccio was Elijah’s babysitter and was keeping him the day he died, as she had done fairly regularly for six or seven months, Nealey said.
His mixed feelings about her are partially because for months, he and his family believed his son’s death was an accident. Fraraccio told Manassas Police investigators that the toddler hit his head in the tub while she was trying to bathe him.
Nealey said she changed her story several times before an investigation revealed the boy had been smothered. At some point, Fraraccio told police she’d smothered Elijah by putting her hand over his month because he was misbehaving as she tried to feed him.
Fraraccio told police the toddler was upset when his two older sisters went on an outing with their grandmother, who couldn’t take him along, Nealey said.
“I feel like I never had the chance to be angry at her (Fraraccio),” he said. “By the time we heard that it wasn’t an accident I was so shocked … I believed for months it was an accident.”
Nealey still believes he and his family will never fully know what happened to his son.
“She can’t be trusted. You can’t believe what she’s saying,” he said. “We’ll never know what caused this.”
Monday was a long day in court for he and his family, Nealey said. He’d already heard most of the details that emerged during the hearing, but some of his other family members had not, so it was especially difficult for them, Nealey added.
His wife, Elijah’s mother, is holding up as well as can be expected, he said.
“We have our moments. The wounds … they keep getting opened up when something else happens with the (court) case,” he said.
But the couple is relieved a plea agreement was reached and a jury trial was avoided, he said. Prosecutors dropped the child abuse charge in the indictment as part of the agreement.
“We really didn’t want to go through that,” Nealey said of a jury trial.
Neither Fraraccio nor anyone from her immediate family has reached out to them after Elijah's death, Nealey said.
“We’ve never spoken to her since it happened,” he said.
The Nealey's two older daughters, now ages 7 and 5, rarely ask about their brother.
When he died, they explained to them what happened, but Nealey said he doesn’t think the girls really understood.
Perhaps when they are older, Nealey said, he will further explain that their brother’s death wasn’t an accident.
For now, Nealey said, he looks at Fraraccio’s upcoming sentencing in January as one more thing to get past on their path.
He would like to see her get the maximum sentence of 50 years, Nealey said.
“ … but nothing's long enough. It’s not really going to matter. Her life is over," Nealey said.