Children testify against father accused of cruelty

Date: 2008-08-21
Source: Henry Hearld

The trial of a McDonough man accused of child cruelty continued Wednesday, as the suspect's children took the stand for the prosecution.

Earl Thomas Dinkler, 52, faces two counts of allegedly beating the children over a four-year period. Dinkler adopted the siblings in 2001 with his wife Deborah, who pleaded guilty to the same charges Monday.

First to testify was the Dinklers' 12-year-old son, who was born in the Ukraine. The boy described life as "terrible" and "awful" while living with the couple. "Every moment, we were frightened of what would happen next," said the child, adding he was often punished for "stealing" food out of the refrigerator in the family's home.

The punishment, added the youngster, typically came in one of three forms - a belt, a miniature baseball bat or bamboo sticks. Each spanking, he said, was administered on his, and his sister's, bare bottoms.

The boy told Henry County Assistant District Attorney, Trea Pipkin, bruises from earlier beatings were sometimes visible when Earl Dinkler administered additional spankings.

In addition, the pre-teen said his parents required him and his 14-year-old sister, who were both home-schooled, to adhere to an extensive exercise regimen. One of the Dinklers' requirements, he said, was that the kids complete 15 laps around their yard each morning.

"We had to run each lap in 35 seconds [or less]," he said. "If I did not accomplish this task, I would have to restart my laps ... or get beaten."

McDonough Police first learned of the alleged abuse suffered by the kids in August 2007.

The girl said on the day in question, she had been hiding from Earl Dinkler to avoid chastisement for not doing her exercises. "I didn't want to run laps because I was sore," the girl said. "Previously that week, I had gotten beaten."

The girl was highly critical of the Dinklers' parenting techniques as she spoke to Pipkin.

She said while she lived with the couple, she and her brother were treated "like little robots," who were forced to adhere to the Dinklers' rules. "We had to ask to use the restroom," she continued. "They didn't trust us to go out of our rooms at night."

The teenager said Deborah Dinkler required her and her brother to keep a bucket in their rooms to use the restroom in at night. Each morning the kids were instructed to clean out the toilet bucket or face additional punishment.

Both children said although their mother was the primary disciplinarian in the home, Earl Dinkler sometimes spanked them with the bat. Each child used the instrument to demonstrate for the jury the force they claim their father used in the beatings.

However, the children conceded to defense attorney, Ricky Morris, that Earl Dinkler did not act in uncontrollable rage when spanking them.

Dr. George Aristide, an emergency-room physician at Henry Medical Center, examined each of the kids when they were brought to the hospital by police last year. He said the children had numerous bruises on their bodies, ranging from "recent to new."

He said the children told him both of their parents had beaten them in the past.

In addition, Aristide said the girl, in particular, had "very severe" injuries, which disturbed him. "I remember walking out of the [examination] room and being horrified by what I had just seen."

After the prosecution rested its case, Morris presented the first of two witnesses for the defense - the defendant himself.

Earl Dinkler said he and his wife married in 1994 and had tried for years to have children naturally, but were unsuccessful. Eventually, he said, they decided to adopt, going through a Ukrainian mission to do so.

Dinkler became emotional on the stand when talking about the first time he saw the children. He described the boy as "beautiful," and had tears in his eyes when talking about his initial impressions of his daughter.

Regarding the alleged abuse, the defendant said he spanked the children on sporadic occasions, and only used the bat once, at his wife's suggestion. Still, Dinkler adamantly denied using excessive force in doing so. "I knew that if I used the bat, it wouldn't just hurt," Dinkler said. "It would injure, and I didn't want to do that. I never spank my children with the intention to physically injure them ... [but] to change their behavior."

Dinkler told Pipkin, on cross-examination, the children typically "behaved very well," when he took care of them while his wife was not home, adding it sometimes "bothered" him to spank them.

Testifying briefly on her husband's behalf, Deborah Dinkler acknowledged she was responsible for the majority of the discipline, and the bruises, the children received. She said Earl Dinkler "never lost control" with the kids, and "didn't approve" when she told him about purchasing the bat.

Pipkin and Morris were each unavailable for comment at the conclusion of the defense's presentation of evidence in the case. A jury is expected to begin deliberations in the case today.

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