Couple in abuse case plead not guilty

Date: 2003-05-01

Couple in abuse case plead not guilty

Geoffrey Fattah
Deseret News staff writer

PROVO -- A couple accused of starving their two adopted Russian children pleaded not guilty Thursday to felony child-abuse charges.

Holding hands in a Provo courtroom, Reed and Teresa Hansen said they understood that they had a right to review the state's evidence against them during a hearing.

But the couple said they didn't want a hearing. Instead, they entered not-guilty pleas.

Both are charged in 4th District Court with two second-degree felony counts of child abuse and neglect and one class A misdemeanor count of child abuse.

News of the hearing cancellation drew groans from outside the courtroom, where witnesses who had been asked to testify for the prosecution were congregated.

Among those witnesses are the new adoptive parents of the two Russian children.

"I'm angry. I'm very angry," said the adoptive mother, who would not give her name.

Investigators allege the couple punished their adopted 4-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son by withholding food for days at a time.

Prosecutors also say that the couple locked the boy in the bathroom without food, clothing or bedding. The child was forced to sleep in the bathtub.

According to prosecutors, the case came to light when the Hansens took the two children to see a doctor in Washington who specializes in treating Russian orphans.

Disturbed by the children's malnourished state, prosecutors say, the doctor contacted Washington social-service officials, who in turn contacted the Utah Division of Child and Family Services.

The cancellation of the preliminary hearing spares the couple publicity over the alleged abuse.

Attorney Phil Danielson, who represents Reed Hansen, said the decision to waive the preliminary hearing was in part made because no new evidence could be discovered through testimony.

"We just decided that was the best thing at the time," Danielson said.

The next step is to set the matter for trial, and attorneys in the case say the trial could take between three to four weeks.

A hearing to schedule a trial date has been set for May 27.

Danielson and Mike Esplin, who is Teresa Hansen's lawyer, confirmed that the defense is prepared to call at least 40 expert and lay witnesses during trial.

Danielson said many of the witnesses would be acquaintances of the Hansens who would testify that the couple are capable and caring parents.

Defense attorneys have said in the past the children were suffering from a pre-existing medical condition -- and that's why they appeared malnourished.

Danielson said medical experts will be asked to testify during the trial that the children's condition had nothing to do with any poor treatment on the Hansens' part.

State welfare officials have reported that the children thrive in the care of their new guardians.


Copyright C 2003 Deseret News Publishing Co.


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