exposing the dark side of adoption
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Abusers' parental rights severed Five children will stay in foster care


by Bill Hethcock

A father and mother who forced an adopted son to live in a tiny, dark space beneath the stairs lost their rights to raise five of their eight children.

The parents' names are being withheld to protect the children's identities.

After 13 days of closed-door hearings, Judge Richard Toth on Monday terminated both parents' rights to raise the three boys and two girls, ages 6 to 14.

The children will remain in foster care until they are adopted unless the parents appeal, which could delay adoption as long as 18 months, Toth said. The parents' attorneys on Wednesday did not return phone calls seeking comment on Toth's decision or whether they will appeal.

Two of the older children are approaching 18, the age of emancipation, and one is older than 18. The El Paso County Department of Human Services did not seek to have the parents' rights terminated for the older children.

Terminating parental rights is a legal procedure in which a parent permanently loses custody of children. Human Services caseworkers start the process, and a district court judge decides whether to terminate.

Toth said county prosecutors presented evidence the parents psychologically and physically abused all five children, although the parents heaped the bulk of their wrath on an adopted son, now 13.

The parents pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child abuse last year in a criminal case. Still, the father, 51, fought termination in all five cases and the 39-year-old mother fought termination of her rights to raise all but the 13-year-old boy.

Before the abuse allegations, the couple lived in a $500,000 house they restored in the North End. They have since divorced and sold the house.

Authorities learned of the abuse when the man reported it in December 2000. The children have been in foster care since then.

Prosecutors said for years the parents forced the boy to stay in a windowless room under the stairs for hours and sometimes days. While under the stairs, he was forced to urinate and defecate in a bucket. When he wasn't, he was forced to masturbate in front of siblings, do calisthenics in the nude, eat meals on the floor and wear a dog shock collar.

Prosecutors didn't seek felony convictions in that case because they could not prove the child suffered serious physical injury. Colorado law provides for felony convictions in cases of physical and sexual abuse of children, but not for psychological abuse.

Judge Theresa Cisneros sentenced the woman to two years in the El Paso County jail, the maximum the law allows. Cisneros sentenced her ex-husband to four years in prison because he pleaded guilty to an unrelated felony theft charge as well as misdemeanor child abuse.

Toth said the parental rights termination hearing was the longest he's endured in 23 years on the bench. He said the boy suffered more punishment than the criminals he sends to prison.

"I can send a man to prison for life without parole, but I can't put him in a hole like that," Toth said Wednesday. "This case was a tragedy all the way around

2002 Aug 29