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January 05, 2005

Jury: Fla. Agency Guilty in Child's Death

January 5, 2005 [Associated Press]

STARKE, Fla. - A jury ruled Wednesday that the state's child welfare agency was at fault in the beating death of a 3-year-old girl who was allowed to remain in an abusive home.

The panel awarded the child's father $250,000. The case is latest in a series of embarrassments for the Department of Children & Families, which has been

under scrutiny since the disappearance of a foster child who was in the state-approved care of a woman with a lengthy criminal record.

"We are reviewing the jury's decision and are exploring our legal options," Department of Children & Families spokesman Tim Bottcher said.

Ciara Floyd was beaten to death by her mother's boyfriend in 1996, a month after her father sought hospital treatment for the girl for bruises on her chest and back. A child abuse investigator determined there was not enough evidence to remove the child from her mother's home.

The boyfriend was sentenced to 30 years for his guilty plea to murder in the case.

The lawyer for DCF argued the investigator had no recourse under the law but to leave Ciara with her mother since there were no doctors' reports of abuse.

"Without that, there were no reasonable grounds to justify the removal of Ciara," Deputy Attorney General Denis Dean said. "Whether she'd like to do something, whether she has a feeling, she has to follow the law."

But the father's lawyer argued that there was plenty of evidence to remove the child, including the girl's bruises, an admitted domestic battery by the boyfriend and a verified abuse report involving another child.

Posted by Nancy at 07:48 PM | Comments (0)

Dad gets 3 Life Sentences

The case uncovered inadequacy of the state's abuse hot line system
January 5, 2005 By RUTH RENDON [Houston Chronicle]

GALVESTON - A League City man was given three life sentences Tuesday after admitting he molested his 2-year-old daughter and beat her to death in a case that brought to light an ineffective state child abuse hot line system.

Frank Padilla, 46, was scheduled for trial next month. His guilty pleas avoided a lengthy trial in which he faced the death penalty. He likely will have to serve 70 years in prison before being released.

An unconscious Linda Gloria Padilla was taken to a Nassau Bay hospital by her father on Aug. 8, 2003. Padilla told hospital officials the girl had fallen off a sink but later confessed to police that he had beaten her because she wet her pants.

The little girl, who never regained consciousness, was transferred to a Houston hospital where she died Aug. 13, 2003, after being taken off life support.

An autopsy showed that the toddler suffered a broken pelvis, broken ribs, a fractured skull and bruises all over her body.

"I think justice has been served today for Linda Padilla," said League City police Detective Marty Grant, who investigated the case. "This animal is off the streets and will not be able to hurt anyone else."

Prior to appearing before state District Judge John Ellisor, Padilla spent about an hour in a conference room with his attorneys and a translator going over paperwork.

He showed no emotion when questioned during an hourlong hearing. Wearing jail scrubs, Padilla answered questions from prosecutors and defense attorneys as he stood before the judge.

Galveston County District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk said defense attorneys approached his office about a possible plea bargain and his office agreed.

"There was nobody else here for her other than us and the League City Police Department," Sistrunk said of Linda Padilla. "Her father was convicted of capital murder and her mother is facing trial."

Padilla, a Mexican national, must serve 40 years on the life sentence for capital murder before being eligible for parole. At the same time, he will be serving one of the aggravated sexual assault sentences and is eligible for parole after 30 years.

Defense attorney Stephen Taylor said it is unlikely Padilla would receive parole on the aggravated assault case when he still would have 10 years to complete on the capital murder case before being considered for parole. Once he completes one aggravated case, then he will serve the second case, Taylor said.

Taylor said the plea bargain keeps jurors from hearing and seeing graphic information about the case. Don Cantrell, another defense attorney, also said the plea agreement was an effort to save Padilla's life.

Taylor said the evidence against Padilla in the sexual assault cases was "very strong."

Frank Padilla's wife, Magdelena, 33, is charged with felony injury to a child by omission and is free on bond. No trial date has been set although Sistrunk said he expects the matter to be addressed by year's end.

The death of Linda Padilla raised questions about the state child abuse hot line system. A pizza deliveryman called the hot line two months before the little girl died to report that the child had a black eye. Frank Padilla, according to the pizza deliveryman, was shielding the girl from the door when he delivered the pizza.

The caseworker who took the call and dismissed the claim was subsequently fired. An investigation into the hot line by the Houston Chronicle resulted in additional workers being hired, installation of an upgraded computer system and other efforts to speed the answering of calls to the hot line.

The Chronicle found that people calling the hot line were being put on hold for extended periods of time because not enough people were answering the phones.

Posted by Nancy at 08:56 AM | Comments (0)

Judge Bars Disclosure Of Sex Abuse Victims' Names

Accusers Cannot Be Named During Trial, Order Says
January 5, 2005 [Associated Press]

BOSTON -- Acting at the request of prosecutors, a judge issued an order Tuesday barring the news media from disseminating the names of the alleged victims in the upcoming child rape trial of defrocked priest Paul Shanley.

Superior Court Judge Charles Spurlock's order bars the publication of the names of Shanley's accusers, one of whom is expected to testify at his trial on child rape charges later this month and has spoken publicly in the past about his allegations.

The name of that man has been published repeatedly by The Associated Press and other news organizations since 2002, when he filed a civil lawsuit against Shanley and gave numerous newspaper and television interviews.

Spurlock cited a state law dating back to the 1980s that says that court or police records containing the name of victims in criminal cases involving rape or assault with intent to rape "shall be withheld from public inspection, except with the consent of a justice" of the court where the case is being prosecuted.

The law says it is unlawful to "publish, disseminate or otherwise disclose the name of any individual identified as an alleged victim" of rape or attempted rape.

It was not immediately known how often - if ever - the law has been invoked to bar the media from naming alleged victims in rape cases.

The AP plans to appeal the judge's order.

The news agency has a policy of not identifying rape victims if they wish to remain anonymous. Two alleged victims who have been involved in the criminal case against Shanley have been publicly identified since 2002; one gave his first interviews about his allegations soon after Shanley was arrested in California.

The man's name was used in initial versions of a story that moved on the AP wire Tuesday, but was later removed after the judge's order was issued.

Ken Chandler, editorial director of the Boston Herald, said the newspaper also planned to comply with the judge's order and also would appeal it. The Boston Globe did not use the name of the man in its early Wednesday edition.

The Middlesex District Attorney's office, which sought the court order, declined to comment.

"I think the court order and the statute speak for themselves," spokeswoman Emily LaGrassa said.

Posted by Nancy at 06:57 AM | Comments (0)