Judge gives adoptive mom maximum sentence for abuse

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Judge gives adoptive mom maximum sentence for abuse

Thursday, April 15, 2004

By John Agar
The Grand Rapids Press

As she stood before a judge, Amber King said she forgave former adopted mother Sandra Parker, but wanted to know why Parker brutalized her, and kept her chained and starving in the basement.

"I have a question: Why did she do these things to me?"

The 14-year-old girl heard no answer Wednesday.

Parker, convicted of first-, second- and third-degree child abuse, insists she did nothing to harm the girl, who was in her care two years ago. She has blamed older adopted brothers for the abuse.

"She has maintained her innocence since Day One, and we still believe she's innocent," said Helen Nieuwenhuis, one of her attorneys.

Her family and friends also believed in her innocence, which led to emotional outbursts when Kent County Circuit Judge George Buth sentenced her to 95 months to 15 years in prison -- the maximum under state sentencing guidelines.

Family had to comfort Parker's niece, LaToya Hall, who screamed, "Oh my God. Oh my God. Please. ... Let me go, Mama, let me go."

Her mother, Ethel Hall -- Parker's sister -- held her down, and said: "I know, it ain't fair."

Eleven sheriff's deputies were inside the 11th floor courtroom, and many were in the hallway and at the main-floor entrance. Police were forced to break up a disturbance in February, when Parker was convicted in a four-week jury trial.

Police warned Parker's family when they came into the courtroom to stay calm. Her family and friends filled one side of the courtroom. Packing the other side were the victim and her supporters, including her mother, Ruby King of Grand Rapids, who adopted Amber in October.

Assistant Prosecutor Helen Brinkman asked the judge to exceed sentencing guidelines, while the defense asked for a sentence at the lower end. 

"This is the worst child-abuse case I've seen in 16 years, short of the murder cases I've handled," Brinkman said.

Along with being chained in the basement, the girl suffered broken ribs, feet, fingers and teeth while staying at Parker's Southeast Grand Rapids home in 2002. She said she was nearly hanged, nearly drowned in a bathtub and forced to
hold lit firecrackers.

Police were summoned when an older foster brother asked a neighbor to call for help.

"I'm not sure Amber would be here today had he not done so," Brinkman said.

She said Parker "blamed everyone else for what happened to Amber."

She said Parker, who received $3,000 monthly because Amber had special needs, took in the girl for "the love of money, solely for the love of money. That child was forced to undergo broken ribs, broken hands ... for the serious offense of stealing ice-cream sandwiches (from Parker's freezer.)"

The judge backed the jury's verdicts.

"These children suffered physical and emotional scars that will remain for the rest of their lives," Buth said.

"They were essentially paychecks for you. (Parker) would receive a paycheck, and the more problems (the children) had, the higher the paycheck would be. That is disturbing to the court. ... You participated in the abuse of the children, you ordered the abuse, you allowed it to go on and didn't stop it."

Parker's family insisted she never harmed the children.

Her son, L.J. Parker, said later: "She loves her children, she loves her grandchildren. She loves kids. See what happens when you try to help?"

It was heartbreaking to watch his mother be led away, he said.

"We're used to seeing her every day. That's kind of hard on us."

Attorney Nieuwenhuis said Parker's case turned into a "media circus."

Parker's other attorney, Damian Nunzio, said an appeal would be filed.

He said Parker has strong support. Her daughter and others wore T-shirts with her picture, some with a Bible verse, "No weapon formed against us will prosper."

"She has so much support from the community, from family and friends, that they're still emotionally upset about the verdict, and certainly the sentence," Nunzio said.

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