The maternal grandmother of a 7-year-old abused girl who died in 2006 testified yesterday the child feared her stepfather. Her stepfather, Cesar Rodriguez, is on trial for Nixzmary Brown's murder; Brown's mother Nixzaliz Santiago will face a separate trial.

The defense called Maria Gonzalez to support their claims a depressed Santiago struck the fatal blow. But Gonzalez, who only appeared because she was subpoenaed, said Brown and her siblings were scared of Rodriguez, "They had a respect for him, but it wasn't a respect out of love. It was a respect out of fear. As soon as he would get home, right away they would run off to their room."

Defense lawyer Jeffrey Schwartz tried to get Gonzalez back on track, by bringing up Family Court testimony where she said nothing was wrong in the home and later accused Gonzalez of perjury. When questioned by the prosecution, Gonzalez said her granddaughter, who weighed 36 pounds (she weighed 35 at age 5) and was tied to chairs, beaten and made to use a cat litter box, was a good girl, refuting the defense claim she was so wild Rodriguez had to go to extremes to discipline her.

Gonzalez is also suing the city for $250 million in a wrongful death lawsuit (the ACS missed signs of abuse, even after her school raised concerns); Gonzalez, who is also fighting for custody of her grandchildren, explained, "I did it for my grandchildren, not for me, because I'm not interested in the money. For the children, because if they [the city] would have followed up in the first place, my granddaughter wouldn't be dead and my little grandchildren wouldn't be suffering now."