Jurors find adoptive father guilty of child neglect
By Rene Stutzman
SANFORD — A jury Wednesday night convicted an Altamonte Springs man of neglecting two children he adopted while his wife withheld food from them and spanked them so hard and so often that she left them with scars.
Dwayne Hardy, 50, faces a minimum of two years in prison. He is to be sentenced Aug. 1.
After the jury announced its verdict around 9:30 p.m., Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler ordered Hardy jailed until then.
The prime abuser, according to the children who testified Tuesday, was his wife, Pamela Hardy, 47. She is charged with a more serious crime: aggravated child abuse. She is to be tried later.
Dwayne Hardy on Wednesday told jurors that he had never abused the children, never saw his wife abuse them and when he found out she had paddled them until they bled, told her to stop.
He acknowledged that when the 10-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl lived with them for two months before their formal adoption in February 2010, they were prohibited from using corporal punishment.
Once the children were officially part of the family, though, both parents would spank them with a wooden paddle and he sometimes used a belt, he said.
Once when he was whipping the boy with his belt, he noticed blood on it, Hardy said.
"I saw blood and stopped," he said. "I said, 'My belt is ruined. It has blood all over it.'"
Spankings are a valid form of discipline, he told jurors, because that's what the Bible says.
"I've been a Christian for more than half of my life," he testified. "We live by Christian principles."
Assistant State Attorney Stacey Salmons told jurors that Hardy knew his wife was physically abusing the children but did not put a stop to it. That, she said, made him a criminal.
The boy, Hardy testified, would lie and steal and needed to be disciplined.
He stole food from the cupboard, the refrigerator and the household garbage, Hardy said. One day, the boy scooped up from the ground and put in his mouth beans that were covered with ants from a picnic-ground parking lot, Hardy said.
That, though, didn't mean the child was hungry, the defendant said. It meant he had the habit of eating everything in sight.
Both children suffered dramatic weight loss, said Assistant State Attorney Gino Feliciani. He showed jurors photos of the boy that showed his ribs sticking out.
"They were being starved," Feliciani said.