Trial in child's death to begin

Date: 2008-05-19

Trial in child's death to begin

Paddock accused of suffocating son

Mandy Locke,
Staff Writer

SMITHFIELD - It's been more than two years since 4-year-old Sean Paddock suffocated in the Johnston County farmhouse where social workers had sent him to live with a new set of parents.

A jury will be asked this week to convict his adoptive mother, Lynn Paddock, 47, of first-degree murder in Sean's death and of felony child abuse for the beatings of two other children.

Sean stopped breathing after he was bound so tightly in blankets his lungs couldn't fill with air; investigators have said that Paddock wrapped him in blankets to keep him from wandering the hallways of their remote farmhouse through the night.

Paddock's case captivated the region and families from Texas to Australia. Mothers blogged about the case; church groups discussed it. Locally, investigators cringed and social workers shook their heads as each detail of the death showed another frailty of a system designed to protect vulnerable children.

Sean's death also stoked a fire already blazing around Michael Pearl, a controversial evangelical minister from Tennessee who coaches parents on how to raise docile, God-fearing children. Lynn Paddock had turned to his guidance to help rear her growing flock of adopted children.

The trial promises a tempest of emotions. The siblings that survived a life in the Paddocks' home will be grilled by lawyers about Lynn Paddock's discipline tactics. Lawyers are expected to argue to a judge today whether to allow the jury to see video testimony of Sean's two older siblings, also adopted by the Paddocks. Several other Paddock children also are expected to testify.

Lynn Paddock's former husband, Johnny, has been ordered to be at the trial, too, though, it's not clear whether he'll be called to testify.

Sean's death revealed flaws in the state's child welfare system. He had been under the watch of social workers since birth, taken from his biological parents' care after their home was deemed unsuitable. An aunt and uncle kept him for a while before financial hardship forced them to surrender him to foster care. Children's Home Society, a private adoption agency contracted by the state to place foster children, found a home for Sean and his sister and brother in late 2004.

In a civil lawsuit, Sean's biological grandparents are trying to make social workers answer for their care of Sean before his death. Ron Ford Sr. filed a lawsuit earlier this year against the Paddocks, Wake Human Services, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, and Children's Home Society. That suit is pending.

Prosecutors likely will use the testimony of Paddock's children to describe her disciplinary tactics. The bodies of Sean and two of his other siblings were covered with bruises -- the remnants, investigators said, of lashings with plastic plumbing supply line.

Paddock's lawyer, Michael Reece, has said that the adoptive mother fell under the spell of Michael Pearl and sought his advice on how to control her adopted children. Over the past decade, she and her husband, Johnny, adopted six children from foster care, including Sean and his two siblings in 2005.

Paddock has lost much in the past two years. Johnny Paddock divorced her and sold their farm in the crossroads community of Brogden outside Smithfield. Her children have been scattered to the homes of others; several have been adopted by new parents. Most people have abandoned her. A log of jail visitors shows only a handful of people have visited her since she was locked up for Sean's death in February 2006.

If Paddock is convicted of first-degree murder, she will spend the rest of her life in prison. If a jury decides her hand in Sean's death amounted to nothing more than involuntary manslaughter, she could walk free at the end of the week, having already served her time.

mandy.locke@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-8927
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