Starvation Case Has Senator Asking Questions

Date: 2008-04-20

Starvation Case Has Senator Asking Questions

Suzanne Collins

HARFORD COUNTY, Md. (WJZ) ― A Harford County child starves to death, leaving a senator to wonder if the state should be checking in on the welfare of children who are schooled at home.

Suzanne Collins reports the little boy who died had very little contact with the outside world.

Dennis Merryman, 8, was one of four brothers and sisters from Russia, adopted by a Harford County couple who already had children of their own.  The couple, convicted of child abuse leading to death, testified Dennis had a lot of behavioral problems and they used strict discipline.  Prosecutors say that included tying the boy up and denying him food.

"He died when he was a few months shy of nine-years-old and he looked like he was three or four in those pictures.  That's the thing I don't understand.  Didn't anybody notice this child wasn't growing?" said Harford County Diane Tobin.

The Merrymans live in rural Harford County.  The children had little contact with outsiders and Donna Merryman taught them at home.  They did go to Franklin Baptist Church, but church members testified they thought the boy was born disabled and sickly.

"The one question I keep getting asked is 'didn't the teachers notice?'  But they were not in public schools.  They were home-schooled," Tobin said.

A state senator wonders if there should be checks made by the state on children who are so isolated and home schooled.

"So whether it's a check in with education officials or health officials, there has to be something in place to protect a child in this type of circumstance," said Sen. Bobby Zirkin.

The head of the Maryland Home Education Association says the Merryman case is rare and unusual and no reason to impose a law on all home schooling families.

"We need to very cautious about taking this incident, and blowing it up in such a situation that would implicate every home schooling family that they're doing something wrong or abusing their children...that is absolutely not the case," said Manfred Smith.

Sam and Donna Merryman were sentenced to 22 years in prison each for the death of their adopted son.  The other children are now in foster care.

(© MMVIII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)


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