For jurors, no question that Allains are guilty of abuse

Date: 2006-03-18
Source: sptimes.com

Lawyers for the Hernando couple used competing strategies, but nothing could obscure the fact they weren't feeding a girl in their care.

By MICHAEL KRUSE

BROOKSVILLE - For the jury there was little doubt: Lori and Arthur "Tommy" Allain had starved a 10-year-old girl in their care down to 29 pounds.

One of the six jurors had a question about the charges, but there was no question about what the evidence demonstrated.

"That little girl went through hell," said juror Richard Scianimanico, 53, a construction company manager from Spring Hill. "Five of us saw it exactly the same, without any discussion, right off the bat: Put these people in jail, and throw the key away."

The trial started Wednesday. The girl sat still on the stand and held a stuffed toy. She testified that her foster parents locked her in her room and starved her.

On Thursday, doctor after doctor shot down the Allains' claims of an eating disorder and the possibility of fetal alcohol syndrome. They said the girl's condition was grave, and focused on the obvious: She was malnourished, dehydrated and 60 pounds underweight because she wasn't being fed.

One doctor said he could see the bones in the girl's fingers.

A Department of Children and Families investigator said it looked like she was a concentration camp victim.

"That really hit it on the head," Scianimanico said Friday.

A DCF supervisor said she took the girl from the Allains and drove straight to an emergency room because she was afraid the child was going to die.

A doctor used a pointer and a growth chart to show the girl's weight going up before she was with the Allains and down when she was with them and then way up after she was taken away.

Late Thursday afternoon, prosecutor Sherry Byerly played a detective's interviews with the Allains.

"Some dogs just don't grow," Tommy Allain told the detective. "Must be the same with people."

Lori Allain admitted the girl was tiny - she called her a "walking stick bone" - but in her interview she put the blame on the DCF, the girl's alcoholic natural mother and the girl's 14-year-old brother who was sneaking her food that supposedly gave the child bulimia.

Lori Allain told a detective that she had told the girl's brother: "When the s--- hits the fan, I'm not going down, buddy. You are."

Friday came the defense. It took just 21/2 hours, and neither defendant testified.

Three of their children - James Allain, 14, Kristen Staab, 23, and Tiffany Staab, 28 - testified along with three friends. All said the girl was always skinny and the Allains were loving and never abused her.

"We thought they lied through their teeth," Scianimanico said. "Those kids just got up there one after another. How could you sit there and look at those pictures and say there wasn't a difference. They were just trying to cover for their parents."

Robert Christensen, Lori Allain's attorney, had tried to make the jury focus on the failures of the DCF and on prior neglect the girl suffered when living with her mother.

Elliott Ambrose, Tommy Allain's attorney, tried to portray his client as a dependable truck driver who worked long hours and was not the primary caregiver at the Allains' cluttered home in Hernando County.

After closing arguments, the jury began deliberations. Was there a difference in the levels of culpability of the two defendants? Was the harm to the girl great bodily harm or something less severe? The child, after all, is healthy now.

There was a question, too, about the DCF's responsibility.

"We kind of thought they made some mistakes," Scianimanico said, "but they weren't on trial."

And as for Tommy Allain's role?

"In my opinion, he was just as guilty as she was," Scianimanico said. "He saw what that child looked like."

The jury - a construction company manager, a Vietnam vet, a retired cabinetmaker, a safety inspector, a chemical engineer and a young woman who works at Publix - weighed the case for 31/2 hours. At 5:37 p.m. Friday, a court clerk read the verdicts: Lori, 49, and Tommy Allain, 48, were guilty of aggravated child abuse and child neglect. They face up to 45 years in prison. Sentencing will be April 6.

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