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January 07, 2005

Two Ohio women lose appeal in child abuse case

January 6, 2005 [The Advocate]

AKRON (AP)- A woman and her partner lost their appeal to retract their guilty pleas to abusing their six children.

Mary Rowles, 32, and Alice Jenkins, 29, both of Kenmore, were each sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The women pleaded guilty in October 2003 to kidnapping, child endangering, felonious assault and other charges.

The 9th Ohio District Court of Appeals on Wednesday also denied a request by Jenkins and Rowles to lessen their prison sentences. Attorneys for both women say they will appeal their case to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The women were arrested after three of Rowles' boys, ages 8, 10 and 14, were found malnourished wandering city streets in April 2003. Police said the boys described being forced to live in a closet that reeked of urine, with the only light coming in at the bottom of the door.

Rowles is the biological mother to each of the five boys and a girl. Prosecutors alleged Jenkins was responsible for the abuse and that Rowles didn't protect the children.

Before they were sentenced by Summit County Common Pleas Judge Patricia Cosgrove, the women tried to take back their plea and take their case to trial.

The women's attorneys said they wanted to call an expert who then refused to testify. Cosgrove gave the women a one-week delay to find another expert and refused to allow the pleas to be withdrawn when an expert couldn't be found.

Attorneys argued in their appeals that the women should be allowed to withdraw their pleas. They also argued that Cosgrove's sentences exceeded the statutory maximum.

The appellate court dismissed both claims in a 3-0 decision. The court ruled Cosgrove's sentence was within Ohio's sentencing laws.

Posted by Nancy at 06:39 AM | Comments (0)

Texas Seeks $329M to Reform Child Agency

January 7, 2005 [Associated Press]

AUSTIN - Texas' troubled Child Protective Services needs $329 million for reforms such as hiring nearly 2,000 more caseworkers and support staff and improving foster care, state officials said.

The Health and Human Services (news - web sites) Commission, which oversees CPS, laid out more than 160 recommendations to overhaul the agency, which has come under scrutiny after a number of high-profile child abuse deaths.

The most recent was in November, when 35-year-old Dena Schlosser was charged with murder after telling a 911 operator that she had cut off the arms of her baby girl. Schlosser had been investigated by CPS in the past.

Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday called on the Legislature to come up with $250 million, the estimated amount needed from the state, to implement the HHSC plan. The rest of the money would come from federal sources.

F. Scott McCown, head of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said the plan was a great starting point, but said it calls for too little money and caseloads that are too large.

Posted by Nancy at 06:26 AM | Comments (0)

Jury convicts in child abuse

January 7, 2005 [St Cloud Times - Minnesota]
By David Unze

A Stearns County jury Thursday evening convicted a St. Cloud man of two counts of sexual abuse against a child. Joseph C. Merritt faces a possible 12-year prison term when he is sentenced.

He also faces several other charges of sexually abusing other children. Trials on those counts are expected later this year. Merritt, 42, has been in Stearns County Jail in lieu of $75,000 bond.

The children he is accused of abusing ranged in age from 7 to 14 at the time of the abuse.

Prosecutors tried to tell jurors about aggravating factors that could have been used to support a sentence longer than the presumptive 12-year term. Stearns County District Court Judge Skipper Pearson denied that request.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer requires that juries, rather than judges, decide whether the facts of a case are severe enough to warrant a sentence longer than called for in guidelines.

Some of the incidents alleged against Merritt occurred in Hoffman in Grant County, according to criminal complaints. Stearns County sheriff's officials received a complaint about Merritt in January 2004. He was charged that month with one count. The additional counts were filed later after investigators learned of more victims.

Posted by Nancy at 06:17 AM | Comments (0)

Cases of child abuse emerge from camps

January 6, 2005 [Belfast Telegraph News]
By Stephen Khan in Galle, Sri Lanka

Having climbed to higher ground as the wave pounded in, Madusha Lakmali thought everything would be all right. Little did she know that evading the tsunami was just the start of her terrifying, week-long ordeal. Next came homelessness, rejection and then sexual abuse.

Across the Asian tsunami disaster zone, many displaced children and orphans who have survived the turmoil now face the chilling prospect of abduction and exploitation.

There are already credible reports of rape and of children going missing after the tsunami struck. From Sumatra to Madras, the fear is that Asia's vulnerable are now more exposed to predatory sex offenders and people-smugglers than ever before.

The account of 15-year-old Madusha illustrates how chaos that follows disaster can be every bit as petrifying and heartbreaking as living through the onslaught of a tsunami.

In the gardens of the Ruhlwa Lamaniwasao home for abused children, half an hour's drive inland from the shattered town of Galle, Madusha played on the swings with two other recent arrivals. All three had terrible stories to tell.

Ever since her mother moved abroad and her father remarried, said Madusha, she had been forced to cook, clean and care for her younger step-sisters. When the wave came she was at the stove. She fled the house, running to higher ground and what seemed like safety.

At first she thought her family was dead. Later in the day she was first delighted to discover them alive, then shocked to be told, she says, that they did not want her back in the damaged house.

So, homeless, she made for her grandfather's home. Within hours, however, predatory advances were made on her. As she described this part of her ordeal Madusha broke down, prompting Dr Sujeewa Amarasena to comfort her.

Dr Amarasena has been looking after children displaced by last week's tsunami and trying to find them new homes. "This girl has had a petrifying experience and needs love and care now," Dr Amarasena said. "She wants to go back to school and it is important we find a good family in this area to look after her."

Iranganie Amarasiri, probation commissioner for the southern province that includes Galle, nodded in agreement as other children looked on. She explained that 16 children were without homes in the area as a result of the tsunami. She also expressed concern that those orphaned or left with just one parent could be abducted or subjected to sexual abuse.

While most Sri Lankan orphans have been taken in by family members or friends living in unaffected parts of the country, that does not guarantee their safety.

Along with Madusha in the Rhulwa home were two sisters, Ayesha and Nelum Keditawakku. They had been travelling with their grandfather when the tsunami toppled their carriage. Their parents moved abroad and abandoned them and 12-year-old Ayesha had subsequently been sexually abused.

Their grandfather also survived the wave, but fled north without the girls, leaving them to seek refuge in a temple. They were subsequently brought to safety here. "Again these are girls who survived a terrifying time and are now without a family to look after them. The future is uncertain and they are scared because of what happened before," Mrs Amarasiri said.

Save the Children is operating in the Galle area and throughout the disaster region to ensure as many children as possible escape the risk of abduction or abuse. Beth Jepson, of Save the Children, said: "Millions of children have been affected by the catastrophe and many of them have been separated from their families and have been left homeless. In a situation like this, children are the most vulnerable, particularly those without their parents or close family members."

In Aceh, meanwhile, where 35,000 children have been orphaned or separated from their parents, Indonesian officials warned that child traffickers were smuggling children out the province for illegal adoption.

It is claimed that at least 20 orphans were sent to Malaysia and Bandung in West Java by traffickers posing as adoption foundations. Another foundation, it is claimed, has offered Acehnese orphans to potential foster parents via text messages. On Monday, the Indonesian Government issued a regulation banning the movement of Acehnese children under 16 from Indonesia .

Sri Lankan authorities, meanwhile are also trying to deal with what has been described as impromptu adoption of orphans. A spokeswoman for Save the Children in Sri Lanka said: "Families doing this are trying to deal with their own grief. We are advising people that they should follow the proper procedure of adoption ... otherwise there will be long-term problems."

Unicef has been swamped with inquires from the West about adopting tsunami children, but it remains a priority to keep them in the area they lived before disaster struck.

In the case of Madusha Lakmali that means southern Sri Lanka. "I want to finish school," she told The Independent. "If I can learn English and finish school, I will be happy and maybe forget about the last week."

Posted by Nancy at 01:12 AM | Comments (0)

Convicted offender pleads guilty to child sexual abuse charge

Thursday, January 6, 2005 Utah [The Spectrum]

CEDAR CITY -- Previously convicted sex offender Leo Shepard, 46, pleaded guilty to first-degree felony attempted sexual abuse of a child in 5th District Court Wednesday.

Shepard will go to prison regardless of what a pre-sentence report indicates because there is a minimum sentence requirement with the charge to which he pleaded guilty. The minimum sentence will be three years to life in prison.

Shepard was arrested Dec. 9 when it was made known to Adult Probation and Parole that he failed to register as a sex offender. Following the arrest, a victim with whom Shepard had a special relationship of trust who was under the age of 18, came forward and reported the abuse to law enforcement. After an interview with Shepard, the sexual abuse charge was filed.

As a result of the agreement between Shepard and the state, the charge of failing to register as a sex offender was dropped, and no victim will have to testify in court.

"This was an ideal situation," Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett said. "In an effort to protect the victim and maximize the time he will spend in prison, he pleaded guilty to attempted (sexual abuse of a child)."

Garrett said if Shepard had pleaded guilty to the original charge of sexual abuse of a child, also a first-degree felony, the minimum sentence would be five years to life in prison.

"We feel good about the plea and we know he will go to prison," he said.

A factual statement read by Chief Deputy Iron County Attorney Troy Little indicated that in July 2004, Shepard touched the victim's private parts. The victim was not of age that she could give consent, nor did she.

Posted by Nancy at 12:25 AM | Comments (0)