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Judge orders acquittal in Mat-Su abuse trial


NEGLECT: Defense's motion is granted just before jury gets case.



PALMER -- George and Shirley Long, adoptive grandparents of children at the center of an infamous child neglect case in the Valley, were acquitted Tuesday afternoon of two criminal charges.

In an unusual move, District Court Judge William Estelle granted the defense motion for acquittal just before the jury was to get the case. Estelle said there was no evidence that the absence of hospital treatment for severe burns suffered in 2004 by one of Sherry and Patrick Kelley's sons caused further injury to the boy.

Therefore, the Longs' failure to report the lack of treatment does not add up to a crime, Estelle ruled. Both charges were misdemeanors.

Sherry Kelley tried to take care of the burned boy for four months until troopers were called to the home between Big Lake and Wasilla.

George Long still must face a misdemeanor 4th-degree assault charge. The jury is expected to get that case this morning, but members won't be informed of Estelle's ruling until it brings a verdict in the assault charge.

In explaining his decision to defense attorneys John Pharr and Laurel Bennett and prosecutor Rachel Gernat, Estelle said medical testimony couldn't say whether the home treatment by Sherry Kelley made her son's injuries from a burn accident worse; therefore, the Longs did not witness a violent crime against a child and were not obligated to report it, as they were charged.

"It sounds gross," Estelle said, "but maggots in the wounds is not necessarily a bad thing. They are used as treatment in other parts of the world."

He scolded the Longs, however.

"That doesn't mean I don't think you created a series of misdemeanors," the judge said, referring to the Longs' decision to buy rubbing alcohol the mother used to pour on the wounds, causing the boy to suffer unnecessary pain.

The assault charge against George Long stems from an allegation that he chained the burned boy to a dog run after he ran away from home.

Estelle told the Longs the five children were hostages and that they were often treated like animals.

The case against the Longs is an outgrowth of charges against the Kelleys. That couple was initially accused of abusing their five adopted children at their home off Misty Lake Road.

The Kelleys were state-licensed foster parents when the children were placed with them starting in 1998 by what's now called the Office of Children's Services.

A trooper affidavit filed at the time said the children -- three girls 15, 14 and 6 and two boys 13 and 11 -- suffered abuse, neglect and violent, often bizarre punishments at the hands of the Kelleys, who were charged with dozens of crimes, including assault and kidnapping.

At times, the 13-year-old boy was sealed naked in a coffin-like box, according to the affidavit. A second boy, 11, suffered burns in February 2004 that became infected, and maggots hatched in the wounds. He was eventually hospitalized.

Further investigation cast doubt on whether the evidence would hold up in court, according to prosecutors, and a plea deal was cut.

Charges against the Kelleys were greatly reduced, and in January 2007 Superior Court Judge Mike Wolverton accepted no-contest pleas and released the Kelleys, who had served about 17 months in jail.

The judge said the established facts weren't nearly as heinous as everyone had thought.

2008 Aug 27