Autopsy: Blankets were to keep boy in bed

Date: 2006-05-05

Autopsy: Blankets were to keep boy in bed

Report delves into suffocation

Mandy Locke
Staff Writer

In the week before 4-year-old Sean Paddock's death, he refused to stay in bed at night and roamed the Johnston County farmhouse of his adoptive parents, according to an autopsy report released this week.

That was when Lynn Paddock, his adoptive mother, began wrapping the child tightly in blankets to keep him still through the night, the report said. By the third night of battling the straying child, the bundling was so thick and so tight that Sean couldn't move.

Sometime in the early morning darkness Feb. 26, the 30-pound boy suffocated to death. Because of the constraint, Sean's lungs couldn't completely fill with air, eventually robbing him of oxygen, said Deborah L. Radisch, a pathologist with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Paddock, 45, is charged with first-degree murder in Sean's death. Johnston County District Attorney Tom Lock will decide next week whether to pursue the death penalty against Paddock, a stay-at-home mother who home-schooled her seven children.

Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell said Paddock bound Sean as a form of punishment.

Paddock's attorney, Michael Reece, insists the death was accidental, not punishment or discipline.

"A four-year-old kid should not be roaming the house at night unsupervised," Reece said. "What she was trying to do was keep the child safe."

Layers of thin, long bruises -- old and new -- stretched from Sean's bottom to his shoulder blade, the autopsy said. In addition to the binding, Paddock had been whipping the boy with a plastic plumbing pipe, Johnston County sheriff's deputies have said.

Investigators say Paddock had also been whipping Sean's 8-year-old sister and 9-year-old brother with the thin, flexible pipes. She faces felony child abuse charges in connection with their injuries.

More than two months after Sean's death, his biological family still can't make sense of it all. They don't understand how social workers could take a child from his parents' home -- which had shoddy heat and little food -- only to put him in a stranger's home where he was beaten.

Looking back, his uncle Ron Ford Jr. says Sean's fate was foreshadowed seven months before the Paddocks adopted him.

In January 2005, Sean returned from his first visit with the Paddocks with bruises on his backside. Social workers determined that the child must have fallen off a bunk bed, just as Paddock said.

Sean and his older siblings told social workers that Paddock had whipped Sean for playing with the family dog, according to a report released after his death by Wake County Child Protective Services.

"It's like they were just rushing to get them off the books," said Ford, who took in Sean and his older brother and sister after they were taken from their parents.

The financial strain of raising the newcomers along with three children of their own forced Ford and his wife to return Sean and his siblings to foster care. In the fall of 2004, a private adoption agency linked the Ford children with the Paddocks.

Social workers removed Sean's sister and brother from the Paddock home after his death.

Bruises marred their backsides, too -- remnants of spankings with the plumbing supply line, investigators say. Paddock's attorney said she followed the advice of Michael Pearl, an evangelical minister from Tennessee who writes books about child discipline and advocates spanking with the plastic pipe.

The Ford family is fighting to win back custody of Sean's sister and brother.

"We just want to be a part of their lives," Ford said. "By the time it's all said and done, I'm afraid the kids won't even remember us."

Staff writer Mandy Locke can be reached at 829-8927 or mandy.locke@newsobserver.com.
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