Trial under way in child cruelty case
By Jason A. Smith
A McDonough woman is headed to prison for child abuse, as her husband stands trial this week on charges he beat the couple's two adopted children.
Deborah Williamson Dinkler, 46, pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of cruelty to children in the first degree. She and her husband, 52-year-old Earl Thomas Dinkler, were arrested in August 2007.
Authorities say the couple caused "excessive" pain to their children, then ages 13 and 11, over a four-year period by forcing them do strenuous exercises, and beating with a belt or wooden bat when they refused.
The pair were indicted on the charges in November.
The trial phase of the case was to begin Monday for both Dinklers. However, Deborah Dinkler entered a last-minute "guilty" plea to the charges, and was sentenced to 15 years, with two to serve in the state penal system.
Scott Key, attorney for Deborah Dinkler, said his client "didn't exactly admit" to the crime when she entered her plea. Still, he said it was in her best interest to do so. "We [acknowledged] that had we gone to trial, there would have been evidence that she did harm the children," said Key. "We didn't want to put the children through testifying, so we made the decision to enter the plea."
Henry County District Attorney Tommy Floyd noted as a condition of the sentence, Deborah Dinkler will be precluded from being able to adopt any more children when she is released.
In addition, Floyd said another severe restriction has been placed on the mother. "The children's placement is in the juvenile court right now," he said. "[Deborah Dinkler] is not to have any contact with [them], until and unless they reach the age of 18. If they wanted to initiate contact at that time, they could."
With his wife's court proceedings behind him, Earl Dinkler, who is currently free on $100,00 bond, came to court Tuesday for his trial.
Opening for the prosecution, Assistant District Attorney John A. "Trea" Pipkin disputed previous statements by the couple, which stated that Deborah Dinkler did nothing more than spank the children. "The evidence ... will show this case is not about spanking," he said, adding that the children had sustained severe injuries to their legs and buttocks, at the hands of their parents. "When these children didn't do exactly what their parents told them to do, [the Dinklers] didn't just spank them. They beat them."
Defense Attorney Ricky Morris, in his opening statement, described the Dinklers as "good parents," who involved their children in activities and made efforts to spend quality time with them. He said prior to the onset of the investigation, the children had made no complaints against the couple.
Morris also pointed out that Deborah Dinkler was the primary disciplinarian in the home, and spent more time with the kids than her husband did. However, Morris said spanking was typically used by the Dinklers as a "last resort" in disciplining the children.
Regarding the exercises cited by the children, the defense attorney said the Dinklers employed such practices as physical education, because the kids were not enrolled in a traditional school environment.
Morris also said Dinkler never spanked his daughter with a bat, and did not use a belt in a severe enough manner to cause bruising. He said his client "did not condone" the level of punishment his wife inflicted on the children, and should not be convicted on the basis of his wife's actions.
The prosecution's first witness was Donna Chapman, the Dinklers' next-door neighbor. She said she was alerted to the alleged abuse of the children on Aug. 4, 2007, when the couple's 13-year-old daughter came to her door. "She asked if she could have some water, because she was really thirsty," said Chapman. "She had been running laps."
The neighbor said she also had a second visit from the girl later that day. "She was sweaty and dirty," said Chapman. "I asked her where she had been, and she said, 'I've been hiding under your house.'"
Chapman testified the girl told her about the harsh discipline she and her young brother had suffered, at which point the neighbor notified authorities.
According to witness testimony, police later arrived at the scene and questioned both children, before taking them to Henry Medical Center.
In the courtroom, the jury observed photographs taken of the girl's injuries, which included dark red bruises and welts on her thighs and buttocks.
Morris said, thus far, the trial is going "quite well" for his client. The attorney said he is confident the jury will see the state's prosecution of Earl Dinkler as "overkill," adding that the true abuser has already been brought to justice.
In addition, he addressed the state's reported plans to call the Dinklers' kids to the stand during the trial. "Prosecuting Mr. Dinkler goes beyond what is necessary - especially putting those children through having to come to a courtroom to testify," said Morris. "[That] seems like cruelty to children, in and of itself.
The state is expected to continue presenting its case today, in Henry County Superior Court.