Mother admits using `holy rod' on kids / Death of 8-year-old under investigation
By CINDY HORSWELL
LIBERTY - A woman whose adopted son was covered with bruises when he died acknowledged that she and her husband sometimes punished their children with a "holy rod," but denied ever abusing them.
Edith Beebe's statement was contradicted, however, by physicians and child welfare officials who said the children showed signs of severe beatings and malnourishment.
State District Judge Chap Cain concluded a two-day hearing Tuesday by ordering that the five surviving children remain in foster care - without parental visitation - until questions surrounding the death of 8-year-old Joseph Beebe are resolved.
The boy, who had cerebral palsy, died March 17 at a Cleveland hospital. Liberty County sheriff's investigators and Children's Protective Services were called after doctors noted severe bruising from the middle of his back, across his buttocks and down his legs.
Investigators are awaiting autopsy results. No charges have been filed.
Beebe, 43, testified that she had swatted Joseph three times on the bottom on the day he died, but she denied doing anything that could have caused such bruising. When shown photos of the bruises, she said she had not seen them as she held him on her lap, although he wore only a diaper.
Her husband, Brian, 53, said that he, too, had not seen any bruises on Joseph before leaving that morning for his job as an airline freight company manager.
The couple's attorney, Daniel Bayless of Cleveland, described them as "deeply religious" Baptists who believe children must be physically disciplined occasionally, but he said they did nothing to cause Joseph's death and are "devastated" at losing custody of the other children.
Beebe testified that she and her husband occasionally used a "shabet," which she said means "holy rod," to discipline the children. She said she stayed near Joseph on the day he died because he wasn't feeling well, and that no other adult had access to him, although she said another 8-year-old son, Jared, later admitted kicking Joseph between the legs.
Beebe said Joseph had climbed into her lap to be read a story when he suddenly quit breathing.
Joseph and his siblings Jacob and Amy were triplets who suffered from cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol syndrome and were adopted by the Beebes in 1994. In addition to the triplets and Jared, the Beebes adopted 5-year-old Abigale, who is visually impaired, and 9-year-old Jonathon, who suffers from dwarfism and spina bifida, said CPS spokesman John Gatlin.
Two relatives and a fellow church member testified that they had never seen any abuse and considered the Beebes good parents.
"These are deeply religious people," said Bayless. "They felt like this was their calling. God wanted them to fix these babies - throw-away kids that nobody else wanted."
CPS officials said they took the five surviving children into custody the day after Joseph's death. They said a doctor found that Jared and the two remaining triplets had significant bruising, consistent with beatings.
"This is the worst case of abuse that I've ever seen," said the children's attorney, Joe Warren of Liberty.
Also, Jacob had an open wound on his buttocks and was so sore that he had to kneel instead of sit, the agency reported.
The four bruised children told of being hit with belts and "batlike" instruments, said the report. Doctors said some of the children had been abused for so long that their muscles had atrophied, the report stated.
The children also told caseworkers that they often were locked in their bedroom for long periods and had to relieve themselves on the floor. In addition, authorities said the children were malnourished and that their foster parents said the children had asked at mealtime whether "this would be the only meal they get today."
Caseworkers also said the children told them Joseph was beaten most of the day before he died, and that their mother told them, "Joseph is burning in hell and you're next."
CPS reported receiving five prior complaints about the Beebes, beginning in September 1997. None of those calls involved Joseph.
Abuse was ruled out in the first three complaints, but neglect was validated in the next two, Gatlin said.
The Beebes were cited for locking the children in their rooms at night so that they didn't roam; allowing four children, ages 4 to 7, to sleep in one crib; removing the children from school to be home-schooled; and keeping an unclean home, Gatlin said.
Judge Cain ordered the Beebes to relinquish the $1,748 per month in funding that they receive from the state for the children and to pay $960 to cover foster care expenses.
The case will be reviewed again in 45 days, Gatlin said.