By Lynne P. Shackleford
The physician who treated three boys whose custodians are on trial for child abuse and neglect charges testified Tuesday that the children were frail, losing hair and showed signs of prolonged malnutrition, starvation and abuse.
Dr. Kristy Wolske became emotional when describing the physical condition of the then 5-year-old child, who was the smallest at 19 pounds.
"It's hard to describe seeing a child like that," Wolske told jurors. "He was so malnourished. He had minimal fat. His skin was practically translucent... you could see the veins. There was blistering. He had extremely thin, coarse hair."
Wolske said the 5-year-old's frail condition is rarely seen in American children and is most often associated with cases of prolonged anorexia. The child, who was wearing a diaper when police placed him in emergency protective custody, also had extensive bruising and his ribs were visible. The back of the 5-year-old's knees were scabbed, consistent with skin that had broken down and is most commonly seen in bed-ridden adults.
"He was so thin you could see his bones protruding on his body. He had bruising on the right side of his body around to his back and on his knees," Wolske said. Two photos showed ligature marks consistent with having been tied to a bed, she said.
All three boys were losing hair, which was thin and brittle, and had lice, the doctor testified.
The 7- and 8-year-olds were very thin and had bruises on their buttocks, backs and thighs. Wolske described the 7- and 8-year-olds as emaciated, both with bruises and scrapes.
Police charged Scott and Molly McCurry, the boys' custodians, with felony child abuse and child neglect after a neighbor notified officers on July 13, 2006. The boys told police that the McCurrys tied them to their bunk beds and forced them to stand at the door during the summer months with a bookbag weighted with bleach and cat litter.
When the children were admitted to the hospital, the 7-year-old weighed 32 pounds and the 8-year-old weighed 39.5 pounds. All children were less than what a normal child their ages should weigh, the doctor testified.
Wolske said after the children were admitted to the hospital, they constantly asked for food, which was given to them in small amounts initially so physicians could monitor them. "Refeeding" them could have been fatal to their body systems, so during the first 72 hours, they had very strict guidelines.
A Department of Social Services foster care worker testified that when she took the children to be examined in June 2003, the youngest child weighed 22 pounds. The oldest child weighed 41 pounds, and the middle child weighed 34 pounds. After the children were placed with the McCurrys, DSS closed the boys' case in September 2003.
The McCurrys told police during separate interviews that the family suffered from a stomach virus that caused the children to lose weight. Wolske and Dr. Nancy Henderson, a pediatrician, testified that the children's physical condition was inconsistent with suffering from a viral or bacterial infection.
Based on the photos, the laboratory data and other health data, Henderson said the boys' conditions weren't consistent with a stomach virus or another acute illness. Henderson diagnosed the children with chronic malnutrition and starvation. She said it was difficult to determine how long -- weeks or months -- the children were starved.
A photo of the McCurry's then 10-year-old daughter showed a healthy child and police who responded to the McCurry's home in 2006 said she appeared fine and in good health.
A police detective who took a voluntary statement from Scott McCurry testified that he seemed unconcerned about the boys' wellbeing and wanted to know why his daughter was taken from their custody. Spartanburg County sheriff's Detective Tracy Moss said Scott McCurry said the boys looked "normal" and ate meals with the family. He told detectives the boys were his wife's biological nephews and were in her custody.
Another detective who took a statement from Molly McCurry said she briefly put her hands on her face and sniffed when shown a photo of the boys, saying she didn't "realize they were that bad."
In her statement, Molly McCurry said she and her husband had intended to repair a refrigerator that no longer worked and said that the boys, prior to their illnesses, ate three meals and snacks daily.
If convicted, Scott and Molly McCurry face 60 years in prison.
The prosecution is expected to conclude its case against the McCurrys today, and defense attorneys will be allowed to call witnesses. The trial is likely to end this afternoon or early Thursday.