Couple Plead Guilty In Adopted Boy's Death
by CHUCK AYERS, The Morning Call
A Franconia Township couple pleaded guilty yesterday in Montgomery County Court to reduced charges in the December death of Carlos Beltran, a 4-year-old Salvadoran boy they were adopting.
In a plea-bargain arrangement, 36-year-old Christine Moyer was sentenced to two years on probation by Judge Horace A. Davenport for endangering the welfare of children, and her 33-year-old husband, Peter, was sentenced to one to five years in Camp Hill state prison for involuntary manslaughter.
Additional charges of third-degree murder, aggravated assault and simple assault were dropped, according to prosecutor Mary Ann Killinger, because a case involving those charges rested primarily on circumstantial evidence.
Davenport told the Moyers before sentencing them that "this is the most tragic case I've come across in my career as a judge and years of practice."
"It's all the more tragic because it comes as an attempt of good intentions. Somewhere this well-intentioned episode took a turn otherwise, leading to Carlos' unfortunate and untimely death," said Davenport.
"I suppose there are times when we all would like to turn back the clock. My heart bleeds for you," the judge said before passing sentence and recommending Mrs. Moyer seek psychological counsel.
Killinger contended that separate and conflicting taped statements given police by the couple on the day of the boy's death, admitted as evidence at a suppression hearing June 10, were sufficient to prove the parents' guilt on the remaining charges.
During the hourlong proceeding, verbal and written admissions of guilt to the charges were entered as evidence by the Moyers.
While on the stand testifying, the pair answered questions succinctly and politely.
Neither showed any outward sign of emotion while testifying, but Mrs. Moyer cried as she left the courtroom after sentencing.
Carlos, named Scott by the Moyers, who were planning to adopt him, came to the relative tranquility of the Souderton area from war-ravaged San Salvador last spring through a Huntingdon Valley agency, Adoptions International.
He joined the Moyers and their two natural children, Laura and Jenny, who were 4 and 2 respectively at the time of his death.
A county judge ordered both girls removed from the home on Minninger Road after Carlos was found dead. They were returned to their parents Dec. 26 after no evidence of child abuse was presented during an adjudication hearing.
Papers filed with the court indicated Carlos was spanked three to four times a week during the first several months in the couple's custody in an effort to stem what the Moyers viewed as intentional and disobedient defecation, urination and vomiting.
As the disciplinary spankings progressed, the papers revealed, theboy was made to drop his pants and brace himself against a bed while Mrs. Moyer struck him across the buttocks with her husband's belt.
"At first she didn't realize when she would hit him on the buttocks with the belt, his body was so small the belt was wrapping around his abdomen and striking not only in the buttocks but halfway around his body," a police investigator wrote in the affidavit.
Dr. Halbert Fillinger, a pathologist with the medical examiner's office in Philadelphia who performed an autopsy on Carlos the day after he died in his bed, said the boy died of multiple injuries that could not have been caused accidentally.
Bruises to Carlos' head, some fresh in December and some older, as well as defensive injuries - those sustained in an attempt to ward off or cushion blows - and pattern injuries - those leaving an outline of the object used in striking the body - all were consistent with evidence of child abuse, Fillinger said.
The fatal blow came 24 to 36 hours before the boy's death Dec. 14, according to Fillinger. It tore the boy's bowel membrane, causing internal bleeding and allowing fecal contents to spill into the boy's belly.
Mrs. Moyer maintained in her statement to police that she struck Carlos in the face the evening before he died after he vomited for a second time. The blow raised a bruise over his right eye.
She also said that her husband came home from work that night and also struck the boy in the face with his hand - a contention Mr. Moyer denied.
The vomiting continued through the night, the couple said in their statement, so they put him to bed in a bathtub on a thin mattress, where he stayed until morning. In the morning, the boy complained of being hot, his stomach was heaving, he had a difficult time eating or staying awake, he was in pain and was dehydrated.
Mrs. Moyer said in the papers that she put the boy to bed and left home to attend her father's retirement party. By 11:30 a.m., when checked by her husband, Carlos was dead in his room.