Paradise couple face murder, torture charges in death of daughter
By TERRY VAU DELL
OROVILLE — A Paradise couple Tuesday were charged with the murder of their 7-year-old adopted daughter during a discipline session at the family home last Friday and the "torture" the previous day of her 11-year-old sister, who remains in critical condition at a Sacramento hospital.
Kevin Schatz, 46, and his wife, Elizabeth Schatz, 42, were arraigned in Butte County Superior Court and could face two life terms in prison if convicted as charged.
County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said Tuesday both children suffered extensive bruising and "whip-like" marks on their bodies consistent with a length of rubber or plastic tubing, which other family members said was used to discipline the children.
The Schatzes were also charged with a misdemeanor count of cruelty to a child, involving less extensive injuries to their 10-year-old biological son.
The couple remain held on $2 million bail.
Oroville attorney Michael Harvey, who has been retained to defend Kevin Schatz, declined to comment regarding the allegations against the ridge couple until he has a chance to review the evidence.
The Schatzes were arrested early Saturday morning, after Elizabeth Schatz called 9-1-1 to report an adopted daughter, Lydia Schatz, was not breathing.
The girl was resuscitated at Feather River Hospital, but was pronounced dead later that morning before she could be airlifted to Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento.
Her 11-year-old adoptive sister, Zariah Schatz, was listed Tuesday in critical condition at the Sacramento children's hospital, suffering from kidney failure, among other injuries.
She is undergoing dialysis treatment in hopes it will help the organs recover, though Ramsey said doctors told him "it's to early too tell."
The two girls had reportedly been adopted by the Paradise couple, along with a 3-year-old girl, from an orphanage in Liberia about three years ago.
Ramsey said after being taken into protective custody, one or more of the Shatzes' six biological children indicated their parents had frequently used the tubing to discipline them, and that the two older adopted girls received "more harsh discipline" than the other family members.
The other children reportedly told investigators the parents blamed the 11-year-old for "being a bad influence" on her younger siblings.
Ramsey said the evidence suggests the girl who died was being disciplined "for hours" last Friday in the parent's bedroom for mispronouncing a word during a home-school reading lesson.
When police searched the family's Crestwood Drive residence, they took a photograph of a 15-inch length of tubing lying on the parents' bed next to a children's book about a frog and a toad, which Ramsey said the deceased youngster had been reading from.
An autopsy is scheduled to be conducted today to determine the cause of the girl's death.
Ramsey said preliminary hospital tests indicated elevated levels of potassium in both victims' blood likely caused by the breakdown of muscle tissue from "recent discipline sessions."
Paradise police said they had no record of any prior child abuse complaints against the ridge couple.
Neighbors said the Schatzes are a deeply religious and private couple who home-schooled their children and seemed to "regiment" their behavior.
The Paradise couple remained silent at their arraignment Tuesday.
Judge William Lamb allowed the media to photograph the pair in court, over the objections of the husband's lawyer and a second attorney, Larry Willis, who represented the wife during Tuesday's court proceedings.
The judge appointed Chico attorney Eric Ortner as Elizabeth Schatz's attorney at this time, though she indicated she is attempting to retain private counsel.
More than two-dozen supporters showed up for the hearing, including the parents of one or both of the defendants. All declined comment.
The ridge couple are due back in court on Thursday for appearance of counsel and possible entry of a plea to the murder and torture charges.