Accused: Stories of beatings are 'lies'

Date: 2003-06-20

Accused: Stories of beatings are 'lies'

By KRISTIN JOHNSON
Special to the Sun

Defense witnesses depicted the Johnson home as a happy, safe place. A mother and her adopted daughter who are being charged with multiple counts of child abuse said the stories told by the 11 children are lies.

However on Thursday, Nellie Jasper Johnson, 60, did admit to "popping" the children on the hand with a paddle. But as for the violent beatings described by the children, she said they are false.

"I don't know why they're making it up, but it's a lie," she said.

Among the prosecutor's allegations are charges that Johnson and her adopted daughter, Colony Latrisa Johnson, beat the children with a board and PVC pipe, forced them to eat until they were sick, made the children fight each other and verbally abused them.

Defense attorney Frederic Kaufman called 10 witnesses who painted another picture. They depicted the Johnson household as a happy, safe place, and Nellie Johnson as a loving mother to the more than 25 children who had lived in her northeast Gainesville home. Not all of the children are named as victims in the case.

Colony Johnson, 29, said that neither she nor her mother ever beat any of the children, and that the only way they were disciplined was by being sent to their room, or by having toys or privileges taken away from them. "If she hit them, I didn't see it," she said.

Colony Johnson also said agents from Florida Department of Children & Families instructed and paid the children to lie about being mistreated. She said she talked to almost all of the children in the week following their removal from the house in 2001.

Nellie Johnson didn't testify about the DCF agents, but said one of the girls was a liar who made up stories about being abused.

Earlier in the case, prosecutors said Nellie Johnson was receiving $85,000 tax free in state and federal funding for taking the children in, and the adoption agency that placed 17 children with her made $7,000 per placement.

On Thursday, Nellie Johnson said money was not an issue. If she did have extra money, she said she wouldn't have to work custodial jobs at the University of Florida and Shands at UF.

Nellie Johnson, Colony Johnson and two of Nellie Johnson's adopted sons also said photographs from a DCF investigation that showed bruises on one of the boy's body was not the result of child abuse, but of a game the children played.

One of the sons testified that he and some of the children had watched the miniseries "Roots" on TV and had decided to re-enact a scene where he was the slave master and the other children were his slaves. Because of the nature of the case and the abuse allegations, The Sun is not naming the kids who testified.

The defense is expected to rest Friday, with closing arguments to begin Monday. If convicted by the seven-member jury, the two women could face five to 30 years in prison per count of abuse.

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