Adopted son takes stand on Day 1 of Trebilcock trial
July 16, 2012 10:54 pm • By Tony Lystra / The Daily News
The boy said his parents taped his mouth shut as a punishment. He was a teenager, but his parents forced him to wear diapers in public because they were afraid he’d wet himself. His brothers and his father once made him wear a helmet and garbage bag and used him for target practice with paintball guns, he said in court Monday.
The boy said he wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom at night, so he resorted to urinating in a cup in his bedroom. He said that if his parents found the cup of urine, they made him drink it.
Worst of all, the boy said, his parents hardly fed him and he resorted to eating dog and goat food.
Jeffrey and Rebecca Trebilcock looked on with stunned faces as their 14-year-old adopted son described a frightening routine of abuse and humiliation at their hands during the first day of their child abuse and neglect trial in Cowlitz County Superior Court.
The Longview couple is accused of starving their five adopted children, all of whom joined the couple’s home between 2002 and 2008.
The Trebilcocks rigged a motion-sensing alarm to keep their adopted children from stealing food, some of which was kept locked up, Deputy Prosecutor James Smith told the court.
The Trebilcocks have denied the abuse and suggested other health problems caused the children to be underweight.
Smith said the boy was severely malnourished and near death when he was rushed to a Portland hospital last year, his body perilously cold and his heart beating so slowly one doctor was surprised he was conscious, according to Smith and witnesses who testified Monday.
The boy’s body was covered with sores from eczema, Smith said, and he had four broken ribs.
The boy, then 13, weighed only 50 pounds, half the normal weight for his age, when he and his four adopted sisters, ages 8 and 13, were placed in protective custody in March last year, according to authorities. All of the children rapidly gained weight and improved in health once they were away from the Trebilcocks, Smith said.
On Monday, Smith showed a photo of the boy sitting in his hospital bed last year, grinning awkwardly, his face sunken, a bony arm poking out from a hospital gown.
Perched on the boy’s nose were a pair of bent and taped bifocals which, Smith said, the boy was forced to wear even though he didn’t need them and they made his vision worse.
Doctors testified Monday that the boy had wasted away so badly that his condition was consistent with terminal cancer patients. Hospital staff had to give him only small portions of food at first so he wouldn’t go into shock and die from the extra calories, witnesses said.
Authorities have said the couple’s four biological children, most of them in their late teens, were well-fed.
The Daily News is not publishing the first names of the adopted children to protect their identities.
Defense lawyers Kevin Blondin and Ted DeBray said the Trebilcocks are good parents who clothed their children and gave them all the food they wanted. The kids were underweight because they’d recently suffered a bout of the flu, the attorneys told Judge Michael Evans.
The children gained weight so quickly after the state seized them, Blondin said, because they were fed a lot of calorie-packed food in their new foster homes. He compared the phenomenon to “fattening a pig,” then quickly clarified that he was not comparing the children to farm animals.
The lawyers suggested other medical problems, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, could also explain the condition of the boy.
“There was no mistreatment,” Blondin said. “There was no abuse.”
The Trebilcocks, both 45, each face one count of first-degree criminal mistreatment and four counts second-degree criminal mistreatment. They have opted for a bench trial, placing their fates in the hands of Judge Evans instead of a jury.
DeBray said in his opening arguments that the case had gotten so much media attention, “There was really never a chance that a jury would give my client a fair shot.”
The trial is expected to last two weeks and include the testimony of all of the adopted Trebilcock children, law enforcement officers, medical experts and others.
Authorities say the 14-year-old boy got the worst of the alleged abuse.
The boy, his cheeks full but his frame strikingly short for his age, poked his head over the walls of the witness stand Monday as he answered questions in crisp, simple sentences.
He testified that he was often cold and damp when he lived with the Trebilcocks. He said that when he wet himself or the bed, the Trebilcocks made him wash his own sheets and clothes in a bucket in the yard, regardless of how cold or wet the weather. He then hung the clothes and sheets up outside, and the Southwest Washington drizzle meant they never really dried, Smith said.
He said he wasn’t allowed to wear shoes very often on the Trebilcock’s roughly 30 acres in West Longview and did chores — feeding and watering goats and other animals — in his bare feet.
The boy said his parents insisted that his bare feet be inspected before he came inside to ensure that he didn’t track dirt into the house. But no one would bother, he said, so he spent hours huddled on the porch, just out of the rain. If he cried about it, he said, his mother or another family member popped out the door and doused him with cold water from a glass.
He said his parents sometimes fed him on the porch. They put food in a plastic potato salad container, which they called his “trough,” then passed it out the door to him. Breakfasts often amounted to dry oatmeal, he said. Sometimes, he said, scraps of breakfast, lunch and dinner were all piled in the plastic container. And on at least one occasion the Trebilcocks gave him moldy bread because they didn’t want it to go to waste.
“They gave it to me in the back in my trough,” he said.