Date: 1994-11-02

Author: AP

Article Text:

BEND, Ore. (AP) Were Dennis and Diane Nason building a criminal empire based on abused and disabled children they adopted from around the world, or devoting their lives to provide a home to children rejected even by their own parents?

A Deschutes County Circuit Court jury will spend the next four to six months hearing hundreds of witnesses to decide.

Known as the Celebration Family, the Nasons are accused of allowing three of those children to die from lack of medical attention, and abusing others. They are also charged with running a criminal enterprise that included blocking investigations by authorities, forging a doctor's signature on documents for adoptions, and siphoning off $ 10,000 in contributions.

They each face a 24-count indictment that includes charges of racketeering, manslaughter, criminal mistreatment, aggravated theft and forgery.

Today the jury was scheduled to view the 33-bedroom farmhouse outside the little town of Sisters where the television show "60 Minutes" came to profile how the Nasons cared for as many as 61 children at one time.

Afterwards, one of those children, Theresa Nason, was to testify how she reported to the state Children's Services Division in 1991 that life with the Nasons wasn't the happy loving picture seen on TV.

In opening statements on Tuesday, defense lawyer David Glenn described how the Nasons devoted their lives to caring for children who had been badly abused in their earlier lives or suffered from severe disabilities.

"They were throwaway kids rejected even by their own parents, dearly loved and accepted," by the Nasons, Glenn said.

Dennis and Diane Nason wiped away tears as Glenn showed photos of three young children they are accused of allowing to die in their beds without recognizing they were sick enough to take to a hospital.

Natasha Mukti Angel Nason suffered from malnutrition when she came to the United States in 1991 as a toddler after living in a prison in Bangladesh. She lived only five more weeks.

Jason Nason was 2 and Jodi Nason was 3 when they died within days of each other in 1985 of a disease called shigella, which causes dehydration through severe diarrhea.

Earlier, prosecutor Kathleen Payne-Pruitt had described how Natasha starved to death and the Nasons ignored advice to take Jodi and Jason to the hospital.

"They were not taken and they died," the prosecutor said.

Glenn said he will call an expert to testify the effects of starvation on Natasha couldn't be reversed. He added that Denise Nason was in touch with a doctor to care for the three children, followed all instructions, and the day Jodi died took five other children to the hospital in case they were ill.

"These defendants built an empire in the most unlikely of places based on the most unlikely of subjects," said Payne-Pruitt in her opening statement. "The place was Sisters, Ore., in Deschutes County. The subject was adopted children."

By 1980, the Nasons had adopted 14 children in addition to four of their own, Payne-Pruitt said.

The rate grew, with 12 children adopted in 1985 and 12 more in 1986, until 88 children in all were adopted or given a home. At the high point, 61 children lived in the Nason household, which had the support of local churches and admirers elsewhere. Many were in wheelchairs. They came from Israel, India, Vietnam, Peru, Mexico, El Salvador and Korea as well as the United States.


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