National News

March 14, 2013

Wis. jurors deliberate in case of starved girl

MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin man hid his teenage daughter away in his basement for years as he slowly starved her, prosecutors told jurors Thursday, even as defense attorneys countered the girl is a liar and chose not to eat on her own.

A passing motorist found the girl wandering around her neighborhood on the outskirts of Madison in February 2012. She was barefoot, freezing and weighed just 68 pounds, prosecutors said. The now 16-year-old girl told investigators her father and stepmother had locked her in the basement, forced her to scrounge for food and punished her if they caught her eating without permission.

She finally decided to run away after her stepmother threatened to throw her down the stairs or slit her throat, she said.

Her father has been charged with five felony counts, including child abuse and false imprisonment, as well as a misdemeanor charge of child neglect. Attorneys delivered their closing arguments in his three-week trial Thursday and handed the case to the jury.

Deliberations were still ongoing late Thursday evening. The man faces up to 43 years in prison and nine months in jail if he’s convicted on all counts.

The Associated Press is not naming the father to prevent identifying the girl, who also told investigators that she had been sexually assaulted by her stepbrother. Her stepmother and stepbrother also face charges in the case.

The girl testified earlier in her father’s trial that he and her stepmother kept her locked in the basement, where she slept on a moldy mattress. She previously told investigators she had to scavenge for food and sometimes was forced to eat her feces and drink her own urine. If she was caught eating without permission, the couple would make her throw out the food or vomit it up. Sometimes she would sneak out through a window and bring back trash to eat.

Dane County Assistant District Attorney Matthew Moeser insisted during his closings that the family denied the girl food and wouldn’t let her use the bathroom. He showed the jury photographs of the girl when she was healthy and later when she was little more than skin and bones. He also walked the jury through photos of an alarm system on the basement door, a camera in the corner of the basement and a motion sensor on the ceiling over her bed. He said she lost track of the days and the months.

“She was hidden in plain sight,” Moeser said. “(The girl’s) needs were not met. Not met because of decisions made by (her father). None of this had to happen. Instead of helping (the girl, she) was concealed.”

Defense attorney William Hayes spent an hour and a half in his closing arguments painting the girl as a liar with schizophrenia. He said her father spent years trying to get her mental health care but suffers from a learning disability himself and couldn’t “figure it out.”

The man moved his daughter into the basement at the advice of a psychologist, and then she refused to eat and urinated and defecated on the floor to show her father and stepmother she didn’t respect them, the attorney said. He maintained she was free to leave the basement when she wanted.

The girl had threatened to kill her stepmother and chop off her half brother’s fingers, and then during her testimony, she blamed the threats on someone inside her named Tina, Hayes reminded jurors.

“If that’s not multiple personalities, it’s not taking responsibility for your actions,” Hayes told the jury. “Do you really think you have sufficient evidence before you to convict (the father) beyond a reasonable doubt?”

Moeser told the jury during his rebuttal that Hayes wanted them to think the girl dreamed up some grand conspiracy to fool investigators, doctors and the jurors themselves. The truth, he said, is her father chose not to help her.

“(There’s) no evidence anyone told (the girl) what to say,” Moeser said. “They didn’t have to. All they had to do was listen. ... It’s a tragedy, what was done to her.”

The girl’s stepmother is scheduled for trial in April on similar child abuse-related charges. Her stepbrother faces two counts of sexual assault of a child and one count of child abuse with a trial set for June.

 

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