exposing the dark side of adoption
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Pair pleads not guilty in abuse of kids: Charges involve five adopted children


Byline: Dana Wilson

Aug. 16--MARYSVILLE, Ohio -- With a roomful of church supporters looking on, a Clark County couple charged in the abuse of their five adopted children denied the crime yesterday in court. James E. Ferguson, 46, and Vonda L. Ferguson, 43, both of Springfield, sat quietly as their attorneys entered not guilty pleas in Union County Common Pleas Court. The Fergusons, formerly of Marysville, were indicted Aug. 4 by a grand jury. Prosecutors say the children, now ages 6 to 16, were abused between July 2000 and November 2004, when the three boys and two girls were removed from custody. Some of the charges accuse the Fergusons of injuring the children while torturing, cruelly abusing and confining them. The abuse occurred in both Clark and Union counties and came to light through a complaint made to the Union County Department of Job and Family Services, Prosecutor David Phillips said yesterday. Phillips declined to say who made the referral. Mr. Ferguson faces 20 counts of child endangering, five of permitting child abuse and five of felonious assault. Mrs. Ferguson faces 20 counts of child endangering, five of permitting child abuse, six of felonious assault and two of rape. Because the case sat dormant for some time, the indictments came as somewhat of a surprise to the Fergusons, said Kerry Donahue, Mr. Ferguson's attorney. "It's obviously been a difficult thing for them," Donahue said. "I think their religion and their faith is helping them through what really is a tough couple of years." Donahue yesterday filed motions challenging the validity of his client's indictment and requesting a change of venue. Judge Richard Parrott found the indictment to be sufficient and deferred ruling on the change of venue request until later. The charges against the Fergusons left Jim Sallee in disbelief. The associate minister of the Church of God in Springfield has known the couple for 15 years and attended yesterday's hearing with more than a dozen other church members "out of concern," he said. Sallee recalled the Fergusons' adopted children as "quiet, well-behaved and mannered" at church.

That description differs from the picture Mr. Ferguson painted of the children's behavior at home. During an interview with Union County sheriff's detectives on April 18, 2005, Mr. Ferguson admitted to using a 2-inch belt to discipline five of his six adopted children, court records show. Two of them were whipped on their buttocks until they bled. The punishment, which Mr. Ferguson described as a "daily activity, but not on the same child," left the children with welts and bruises. Mr. Ferguson also described using a wooden paddle wrapped with duct tape. Other punishments included dangling two of the children by their ankles over the edge of a stairway banister, kicking one child and putting a soiled washrag in another child's mouth, court records show. Donahue said Mr. Ferguson and his wife agreed to adopt the children "knowing they had some issues and problems."

"He was willing to do this out of the goodness of his heart," Donahue said. dwilson@dispatch.com

2006 Aug 16