Disabled boy's death ruled homicide / `Holy rod' used for discipline

Relates to:
Date: 2000-04-14

By CINDY HORSWELL
Staff

LIBERTY - The death of a disabled 8-year-old boy - whose adoptive mother has admitted using a "holy rod" for discipline - has been ruled a homicide resulting from "battered child syndrome."

The Jefferson County medical examiner, Dr. Tommy J. Brown, ruled Thursday on the March 17 death of Joseph Beebe, one of six medically disabled children adopted by Brian and Edith Beebe of Cleveland.

No charges have been filed, but law enforcement agents said the results of the autopsy will be reviewed by a grand jury.

Joseph was one of triplets - each born addicted to drugs and suffering with cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol syndrome - adopted by the Beebes from Children's Protective Services in 1994.

Joseph's siblings, Amy and Jacob, as well as three other of the Beebes' adopted children have been taken into protective custody.

During a two-day hearing in which the protective custody was upheld and the Beebes were denied visitation, doctors reported most of the surviving children were malnourished and showed signs of abuse such as bruising, atrophied muscles and malformed bones with calcium deposits.

The Beebes' attorney, Daniel Bayless of Cleveland, describes them as "deeply religious" Baptists who felt God called them to "fix these babies, throw-away kids that nobody else wanted." He denies that they have done anything wrong.

Brian Beebe, 53, an airline freight company manager, said he never saw the massive black bruises that covered Joseph from the middle of his back, across his buttocks and down his legs the day the boy died.

His wife, Edith, 43, said Joseph, wearing a pull-up diaper, suddenly stopped breathing after he had complained of a stomach ache and had crawled into her lap to be read a story.

She said she administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but never saw any of the bruising that the nurses reported finding after he was rushed by ambulance to the hospital.

She acknowledged swatting Joseph three times on the buttocks earlier in the morning but never abusing him. She said she occasionally used a "holy rod" when other methods, such as "time out" or running in place, failed to get results.

However, she said that one of the other children had told her that he had kicked Joseph between the legs and that the children were known to hurt each other or themselves at times.

Children's Protective Services said that beginning in September 1997, the agency received five complaints that the Beebe children were being physically abused.

None of the complaints involved Joseph and no physical abuse was ever validated. Caseworkers did find evidence of neglect in December 1998.

The neglect included a filthy house, children being locked in their bedroom overnight to "prevent them from roaming," four children (up to age 7) sleeping in one crib, and the children being pulled from public school to be home-schooled, said the agency's spokesman John Gatlin.

In addition, the family acknowledged sometimes paddling the children, which the agency deemed inappropriate for abused children. The Beebes promised to refrain from paddling, re-enrolled the children in school and made other corrective measures before the file was closed last July, Gatlin said. About six weeks ago, the family moved to Liberty County.

A child advocacy group, Justice for Children, criticized Harris County CPS, saying it failed to do a thorough investigation.

"So many prior referrals should have been a red flag," said Barbara Baldovin, an advocacy group member who is looking into the case.

Texas Ranger Frank Huff said any charges to be filed in the death will be determined by a Liberty County grand jury, which has already received an initial briefing.

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