Kelley defends actions

Date: 2006-11-29

She kept boy in box to protect herself, other kids, she says

Anchorage Daily News |

Editor's Note:
This story was originally published 11/29/06

PALMER -- Sherry Kelley for a second day in Superior Court on Tuesday continued to offer rational explanations for the treatment visited upon her 13-year-old adopted son in summer 2004.

Confronted by an assistant district attorney, Kelley testified the boy was uncontrollable and potentially a threat to the other four children. So chaining the boy to a tree or confining him in an 8-foot-by-1-foot wooden box for three days was not discipline, Kelley said in court.

She took offense when assistant district attorney Rachel Gernat described the confinement as punishment.

"That was not punishment. I did that to protect myself, the other kids," Kelley testified.

The boy, one of five adopted children in the Kelley family, had threatened her, had cut a younger brother's arm with the jagged lid of a food can, and had used foreign objects to sodomize a girl who briefly lived with them, Sherry Kelley testified.

That last incident, she said, prompted them to move from Anchorage to the Valley.

Kelley, 37, and her husband, Patrick Kelley, 45, were in court Tuesday before Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton for a continuation of their sentencing hearing.

Sherry Kelley faces up to six years in prison on one count of assault and another of criminal nonsupport, according to a plea agreement she and her husband reached with prosecutors earlier this year. Patrick Kelley faces a sentence of up to two years on a count of felony child endangerment, to which he pleaded no contest.

The children were removed from their home near Big Lake in July 2004 after authorities discovered them living in junk vans and tents. The eldest son, 13 at the time, had been confined for a short period in the wooden box and at another time was chained to a tree.

Tuesday, continued testimony from Sherry Kelley and from an Alaska State Troopers investigator and two defense investigators focused on the Kelley family's living conditions that summer. According to trooper affidavits, the children claimed they weren't given enough food and clothing; they had no toys to play with; and their parents beat them with a shovel, their fists and a metal pole.

Sherry Kelley on Monday flatly denied beating the children.

Gernat questioned Kelley about burns and frostbite another son, 10 at the time, suffered while in her care. Gernat asked Kelley what she did about the injuries.

Kelley said she consulted a medical book that said frostbite often heals itself. She bandaged the boy's finger, applied ointment and kept an eye on him.

Asked if she knew what happened to the boy after he was taken from her care, Kelley testified he'd had the tip of his frostbitten finger removed.

The boy also sustained leg burns that Kelley testified she treated in a similar manner -- keeping them clean and monitoring them. Gernat showed Kelley pictures of the boy's wounds five months after he was burned; Kelley acknowledged the burns had not healed.

Gernat also confronted Kelley with the results of a medical examination conducted the day after the incident that led to the assault count to which she had pleaded no contest.

Kelley on Monday testified the 10-year-old son struck her in the face with a metal pipe. Shown the medical report in court, Kelley acknowledged it showed no evidence of such an injury. The child told trooper investigator Leonard Wallner at the time that his mother struck him with the pipe, not vice versa.

The investigator's affidavit showed that the child's arm was swollen, an injury he attributed to a blow from his mother.

Kelley testified that her son lied to the investigator. She said the boy injured his arm falling off a building on the family's property.

Wolverton adjourned the hearing Tuesday and scheduled it to reconvene Jan. 8, 2007. This week's two sessions concluded without the judge hearing from Patrick Kelley.


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