CARROLL QUESTIONS LINGER

Date: 1993-08-09
Source: newsbank.com

CARROLL QUESTIONS LINGER

August 9, 1993
Jim Dillon
Dayton Daily News
       
Questions involving the Carroll family don't go away.

Was the system at fault for failing to protect the four severely handicapped children who all died suspiciously? Why were the remaining children left in their home after 6-year-old Hannah died from bleach burns?

Who is to blame?

Despite a public inquest and much media attention into the tragedy - and now a new ruling favorable to Timothy and Kathleen Carroll - the answers are as clouded as ever.

"It's a system of human beings involving human judgment, and mistakes are going to be made," Greene County Prosecutor William F. Schenck said.

But if there were mistakes, who made them? And could it be that no one is at fault for allowing what happened in that Cedarville ranch house?

The person who played the strongest role in keeping the Carroll children in their Cedarville home was Judge Robert A. Hagler of Greene County Juvenile Court. Hagler removed himself from the case July 30, citing "unfounded innuendos" about his objectivity.

Although Hagler acknowledges being troubled by the case, he clearly defends his decisions to keep the children where they were.

In a written statement, Hagler said the Carroll case has been "an absolute nightmare for everyone involved. I have reviewed all information provided to me with great care, and I have rendered decisions to the best of my ability based upon what I believed at the time to be in the best interest of the Carroll children."

Schenck said Hagler is not to blame for the deaths. But Schenck questions some of Hagler's rulings.

After Hannah died Sept. 21, 1992, Greene County Children Services officials asked Hagler for temporary custody of the remaining children in the Carroll household. Schenck, as county prosecutor, represented Children Services in that motion.

In a custody hearing Sept. 23, Juvenile Court Referee Robert Hutcheson refused to remove the remaining children from the home, with the exception of an infant, Chloe, whose adoption from a private agency in Columbus was not complete. Hagler approved the decision.

On Oct. 15, Schenck presented evidence to a county grand jury, which indicted Kathleen and Timothy Carroll on felony charges of involuntary manslaughter involving Hannah's death.

The criminal case originally was assigned to Judge Thomas Rose of the Greene County Common Pleas Court. Then something unusual happened, Schenck said. Hagler assumed jurisdiction over the criminal case.

"I was called in by the judge himself and told, 'I am going to seek this case being transferred from general division to juvenile division,' " Schenck said. "I've never seen it happen since I've been a prosecuting attorney. But it is legal and proper."

Schenck said Hagler believed justice would be served better by one judge instead of two.

"That was his call," Schenck said. "But the reality is once he took it, we were stuck with his particular bent, if you will. I'm not going to say bias."

Hagler, according to Schenck, made it clear he believed the Carrolls "were good people" and the other children "were in no danger."

On Oct. 19, Chloe died while in foster care. Hers is the only one of the deaths of the Carroll children not considered suspicious.

On Nov. 15, 3-year-old Noah died. His body was cold when paramedics arrived.

Then, on Dec. 9, 3-year-old Mollie died in bed. She appeared to have been that way for 12 hours before emergency crews were called.

Mollie's death prompted Schenck and Children Services to seek immediate custody of the five remaining children. Hagler granted the request within 90 minutes.

Yet two children without handicaps were returned to the Carrolls' custody two days later. And on Dec. 23, Hagler returned the three handicapped children to the Carrolls.

"I'm delirious. This is just too wonderful for words," Mrs. Carroll said at the time.

Meanwhile, the criminal case against the Carrolls started falling apart in Schenck's mind.

Public opinion was in favor of the Carrolls, Schenck said. In addition, Hagler made it clear "no matter what happened, they were going to get probation."

"I felt that this judge felt that these were good God-fearing people who had suffered coincidental tragedy," Schenck said. "And my position was that I could end up with no conviction, no control, no nothing."

So in January, Schenck accepted a proposed plea bargain. It called for the Carrolls to plead guilty to contributing to the neglect of a child - a misdemeanor.

Hagler sentenced the Carrolls to a year in jail, then suspended the sentence and placed the couple on probation for five years. A condition of probation prevented the Carrolls from adopting more children or acting as foster parents without court approval.

In late March, Hagler granted Children Services continued "protective supervision" of the Carroll children. The ruling allows Children Services to visit the Carroll home unannounced and check whether an adult is supervising the children.

The Carrolls remained largely out of the news until June 14, when 12-year-old Josiah died. Hospital personnel estimated he had been dead several hours before his death was reported.

Again, Schenck and Children Services requested custody of the remaining children: James, 17; Isaiah, 11; Hosea, 10; and Samuel, 5. Hagler rejected the request, but let Children Services continue to monitor the home.

Hagler's position "was you better demonstrate to me foul play in these subsequent deaths. Well, we couldn't," Schenck said.

"If he wasn't going to remove them after death No. 1, the bleach burn, he wasn't going to do it after the others," Schenck said. "He did what he thought was right."

In addition, "these children legally were the children of Timothy and Kathleen, and courts are very hesitant to take people's children away from them," Schenck said.

Schenck ultimately succeeded in raising concerns about the deaths through a coroner's inquest, held Thursday and three days in late July.

The first session revealed enough new evidence about Hannah's death that Schenck on Thursday charged James Carroll with involuntary manslaughter.

It also renewed concerns about the Carrolls and their ability to care for so many disabled children. As a result, Schenck and Children Services again sought custody of the remaining children.

Retired Judge Richard T. Cole of Clark County, who replaced Hagler in the case, refused Friday to immediately remove the remaining three children from the home. He also refused to have James held in the juvenile detention center.

Cole did agree to reconsider both decisions at hearings set for Friday.

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