Matthews convicted of child abuse

Relates to:
Date: 2004-12-04

Mother of 16 faces up to a year in jail

TONYA SMITH-KING
The Jackson Sun

A Kenton mother could face almost a year in jail on a child abuse and neglect charge she was found guilty of earlier this week.

Frances Ellen Matthews, 49, was charged in November with two counts of child abuse and neglect. She was accused of striking one girl in the eye with a shoe and beating another with a wire coat hanger.

Gibson County Judge James Webb found her guilty of one count during a hearing Tuesday, said Gibson County Circuit Court Clerk Janice Jones. Matthews' attorney, Jason Scott, said she was convicted of hitting a then 17-year-old girl with a shoe in December 2003 but the judge dismissed the other charge.

Matthews and her husband, Dale, had 16 children-many diagnosed with severe physical and mental disabilities-removed from their home in August over child abuse and neglect allegations. The children, who ranged in age from 3 to 17, were placed in foster homes.

A sentencing hearing will be set at a later time, Jones said Friday. The charge is a class A misdemeanor that carries up to 11 months and 29 days in jail.

But Scott hopes that Webb will give his client judicial diversion, which would mean no jail time.

"If he gives her jail time, we'll definitely appeal it."

Frances Matthews admits she threw the shoe, but says she did it out of frustration and didn't mean to hit the child, Scott said.

Matthews was accused of striking the girl in her right eye with the shoe, and of slamming the girl against the dryer, bruising the left side of her face, according to warrants filed in Gibson County General Sessions Court. But no testimony and no witnesses were presented Tuesday about the dryer accusation, and Matthews has always denied it, Scott said.

She also was accused of excessively whipping a 13-year-old girl on Aug. 1 with a yard stick, breaking the stick on the child, according to the warrant. Police also believed she beat the girl with a wire coat hanger, causing bruises about the girl's legs, the warrant said. The charge related to those accusations was dismissed by the judge, Scott said.

Matthews remained free on a $5,000 bond she posted in November, Jones said.

The Matthewses still have a dependent neglect case pending in Gibson County Juvenile Court, where they're accused of neglecting their dependent children.

The court met on the case Friday and handled preliminary matters such as motions and setting future court dates, Juvenile Court Clerk Lee Hayes said. Lauderdale County Juvenile Court Judge Rachel Anthony set Feb. 15 and 16 for a hearing at which testimony and the facts of the case will be presented, Hayes said.

Anthony is filling in for Gibson County Juvenile Court Judge Robert Newell, who recused himself because of similarities between the Matthewses' case and another case he's hearing involving Tom and Debra Schmitz, Hayes has said.

The Schmitzes had 18 children removed from their Trenton-area home in June. A grand jury has indicted them on a total of 54 child abuse and other charges. They have a trial set for March 8.

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