One kid in PSL abuse case may be dead

Date: 2007-08-11

One kid in PSL abuse case may be dead

By Derek Simmonsen
Saturday, August 11, 2007

PORT ST. LUCIE — The children taken care of by Judith Leekin said one of her kids died sometime in the past, according to investigative notes released in the case Friday.

Typed notes refer to a child with "Down syndrome or autism" nicknamed "Mo," who the other adopted children said was dead. Claudette Jackson, who lived with Leekin in the late 1990s before having a falling out with her, also told police there was a child called "Mo" who wasn't among the children and adults found by investigators.

Officer Rob Vega, a police spokesman, declined to comment.

The four children were in "very poor mental condition" and were described as having Stockholm syndrome, a condition where a hostage bonds to a captor, and were said to have developed a sense of dependence upon Leekin, according to the notes released by the State Attorney's Office. Two of the special-needs adults would not be able to function alone, while two others had problems stemming from their social isolation, but have the potential to become independent.

The remaining two adults were noted as being the "brightest and most articulate." All of the children and adults in Leekin's care had mental and psychological evaluations done on them after the police investigation began.

Leekin, 62, was charged last week with 10 felonies after being suspected of adopting 11 children in New York and collecting up to $2 million for their care, but abusing and neglecting them instead. She remains at the St. Lucie County Jail on more than $4 million bond and has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The court documents also include more details about how the case first came to police attention. An 18-year-old adopted daughter of Leekin was found abandoned at a Publix grocery store in St. Petersburg on July 4 and she gave investigators two slightly different versions of what occurred.

In one, she said Leekin and Leekin's brother, Tony, who was visiting from Trinidad, were planning to take her to a condo they were going to give her so she could live on her own. They stopped at the Publix to use the bathroom and Tony gave her $20 and a new wallet and told her to wait inside the store.

In another police report, she told investigators she was told they were going to Busch Gardens and when they stopped at the Publix, Leekin told her to go inside and get bread. Leekin told police a similar version of this story when they questioned her July 5, saying she got in a fight with her adopted daughter and after the woman said she didn't want to live in the house anymore, Leekin drove aimlessly across the state before deciding to leave her at the Publix.

The adopted daughter woman said she had been with Leekin since she was 5 years old and remembered living in an apartment near the Treasure Coast Square Mall when she was 10 years old, or about eight years ago. Leekin would look in on them every other day and they sometimes had another adult babysitter, but she and her siblings mostly fended for themselves, she said.

She was 14 when they moved to Leekin's current home on Hawthorne Circle. The woman told investigators she had never seen a doctor, was never taught to read and learned her vocabulary from TV.

When police came to Leekin's house on July 5, she said the only people in the house were her, one son and her brother. She claimed the adopted daughter left the house a year earlier and Leekin denied restraining the children.

An officer returned a few minutes later after he called the adopted daughter who was left at Publix and learned the children were taught to hide from police. Eight people — four children and four adults — were found in an upstairs bedroom.

Leekin admitted to coaching her son on what to tell police and admitted to restraining one of the adults. When asked, she showed police the plastic candy tub where she kept handcuffs and plastic cable ties she bought at Home Depot.

"Judith said she does not like people to know her business so she keeps them in hiding," the officer wrote in the report.

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