Father convicted of child cruelty

Date: 2008-08-22

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

A jury returned a verdict of "guilty" Thursday in the case of a McDonough man accused of abusing his two adopted children.

Earl Thomas Dinkler was convicted on two counts of cruelty to children in the first degree. He was accused of having beaten his kids, ages 12 and 14, with a belt and a wooden bat over a four-year period, as a form of discipline.

The jury's decision came three days after Dinkler's wife, Deborah, pleaded guilty to the same charges, and just hours after attorneys for the defense and prosecution gave their closing arguments.

Dinkler's attorney, Ricky Morris, characterized the prosecution's case against his client as "sloppy." He further asserted that the state had produced a "lack of evidence" pointing to Earl Dinkler's culpability in causing bruises to the children's bodies.

"The only person for whom you have absolute, concrete proof [of cruelty] ... is Debbie Dinkler," Morris said. "The state's case is, 'Well, Earl didn't call anybody [for help].' He's not charged with that."

Morris reminded the jury of testimony by both Dinklers that the defendant's wife used the bat, a practice to which Earl Dinkler objected. The attorney also said his client testified he never used the bat on his daughter, and only once on his son.

Summarizing his argument for the jury, Morris said the children's plight in recent years was not the doing of Earl Dinkler. "The reality is that this family is broken, as a result of one of the parents losing control, and crossing the line," the defense lawyer said. "Just because [Deborah Dinkler] did it, doesn't mean Earl did it."

In his closing arguments for the state, Pipkin described Morris' strategy as a "smoke screen," designed to distract the jury. He then asked the panel to employ "common sense" during their deliberations.

Pipkin said the case against Dinkler was not about a parent's right to discipline or spank a child, but about two children who were "scared" of their mother and father. He said the Dinklers kept their daughter "completely isolated from this world," before the child spoke with police.

In addition, Pipkin said both children's accounts -- of bare-bottom spankings and other discipline tactics -- were "consistent" throughout the course of the trial.

Still, Pipkin gave the defendant the benefit of the doubt for a brief moment, when he allowed for the possibility that the girl kept her underwear on when she was spanked by her father. As the prosecutor displayed a picture of the girl's bruised backside and thigh, he said Dinkler had to be aware of the extent of the abuse inflicted by his wife. "There is no way that underwear covers this, and that he didn't see that bruise."

The prosecutor said the "most damning evidence" against Dinkler came, not from the prosecution, but from the defense. Pipkin pointed to photographs Morris submitted, of the defendant with the kids on various vacations, and said they contradicted Dinkler's claim he spent more time focused on work, than on matters at home. "The reason this is damning is because it shows how close Earl Dinkler was to his family," Pipkin said. "He knew everything that went on in that house. He was part of it. These kids weren't [only] abused on weekends when he was gone."

The prosecutor then told the jury the Dinkler children, who are currently in foster care, were "crying out" for their help, and implored the panel to return a guilty verdict.

After the jury convicted Dinkler, Judge Wade Crumbley began to address the subject of sentencing for the defendant. Pipkin then addressed the court on the children's behalf, saying they requested "leniency" for their father, in the form of probation.

Pipkin also pointed out that the recommendation was strictly that of the Dinkler children, and not the state. Dinkler would be precluded from having any contact with the kids for a year or more, as a condition of the proposed sentence, depending on the children's wishes.

Judge Crumbley then heard from the defendant himself. An emotional Earl Dinkler pleaded with the court to allow him to maintain a relationship with his children. "I don't know if I will ever again hear my children call me 'Poppy,'" he said. "I would ask the court to please let me try."

In response, Crumbley said the parents' "bizarre" actions went "beyond the boundaries" of proper discipline. The judge said the children's request "surprised" him, and ordered the county's probation department to conduct further investigation, before he decides on a sentence.

Deborah Dinkler is currently being held in the Henry County Jail, pending a transfer into the state penal system. A sentencing hearing for her husband has been scheduled for Sept. 22, in Superior Court.

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