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Lucas Ciambrone


Joseph and Heather Ciambrone are serving life sentences in Florida for the first-degree murder of their adopted son, Lucas. Prosecutors say that seven-year-old Lucas — who died of a head injury — had been starved, bitten, beaten, and forced to sleep in a bathroom stripped of towels, soap, toilet paper and light bulbs. Although the mother is the one who abused the boy, the father was accused of doing nothing to help the child.

After Lucas’s death, investigators found the 27-pound child had been kept locked away in a bathroom and had no contact with others. He had 200 bruises and scratches on his arm; five of his ribs had been broken longer than six months.

The notorious case has significance to the Attachment Therapy (AT) community has taken on this case as an early example of the problems faced by parents with “attachment-disordered” kids, usually adoptees like Lucas. A leading AT proponent, Foster Cline, gave testimony in defense of both parents.

Psychiatrists and others testified at both trials that Lucas had tantrums in which he would throw himself onto the floor. The boy reportedly urinated on the floors, banged his head against walls, drank from the toilet and was once placed in a psychiatric ward after burning another child with a light bulb. One therapist claimed Lucas sexually acted out with other children, threatened to stab Heather Ciambrone, and threatened to harm a younger brother. All of which is behavior supposedly consistent with Attachment Disorder as described by Attachment Therapists.

On the other hand, Lucas’ teachers reported no violent or angry behaviors from him at school. Attachment Therapists say that attachment-disordered children often only display their bad behaviors at home.

“It is clear that what happened to Lucas Ciambrone is not acceptable,” prominent AT leader Foster Cline wrote to the court, “but it is understandable. Joe Ciambrone may not be completely guiltless, but he is not completely guilty. This is not the case of a bad man committing a crime, but of a good and compassionate man losing his compassion in a horror akin to that experienced by Patty Hearst. He lived in a situation with the same psychic pressures as those experienced in a concentration camp or cult.”

Lucas’s death, Cline continued, was “certainly not a crime of criminal intent which is the basis for ‘murder in commission of a felony.’ Indeed, all the evidence points to just the opposite. The parents’ intent was to get help for their impossible child while protecting the family.”

“No juror, unless he or she actually had ever lived with a seriously disturbed child, can fully appreciate the agony, pain, hopelessness and rage that such an existence engenders,” he said in his affidavit. “Although it may appear callused and politically incorrect to say it, life for foster or adoptive parents living with such a child is akin to living life with an out-of-control Doberman. However, it is abusive to cage it; it can’t be put on a leash, it can’t be given away … What’s worse, the adoptive or foster parents who are in no way responsible for the genesis of the child’s behavior, which is based on infantile abuse and neglect, are inevitably blamed for the child’s behavior.”

Perhaps, Cline concluded, some RAD children “are honest-to-God unreachable” and shouldn’t be placed with families.

Cline had a slightly different take in his testimony at Heather Ciambrone’s trial, where he testified for hours as the lead-off witness for the defense. He described the behaviors attributed to Lucas as being symptomatic of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), a generally accepted diagnosis. With the usual AT slant on RAD, he claimed that a child denied nurturing at an early age becomes severely disturbed and doesn’t respond to love, causing parents to become frustrated.

Unfortunately for Cline and the Ciambrones, his latest testimony does not agree with the generally accepted symptology of RAD. There is no recognition of violence, cruelty, or even agression, associated with the RAD diagnosis. Children with RAD are either withdrawn or indiscriminately affectionate.

As has happened in every case where arguments blaming the child has been made, Cline’s efforts at exculpation were in vain. The judge hearing Joseph Ciambrone’s motion for a new trial. The jury hearing Heather Ciambrone’s case convicted her of first-degree murder. Both are now serving life sentences, though Heather is expected to appeal, again.