exposing the dark side of adoption
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State briefs : Parents tortured boy to death: Police


RUBONIA The parents of a 7-year-old boy who died in May with multiple injuries beat, tortured and starved him until he died, authorities said.

Joe Ciambrone, 41, and his wife Heather, 26, were arrested Friday for third-degree murder in the death of Lucas Ciambrone, whom they adopted two years ago.

"I think Lucas literally went through hell in the last six months to a year," said Manatee county Sheriff Charlie Wells. "This certainly stacks up as being one of the worst cases of child abuse that I have seen."

Manatee County authorities are looking for more evidence to upgrade the charges to first-degree murder.

The couple remained at Manatee County Jail on Saturday on $75,004 bond each. If convicted, they each face 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Their attorney, Jon Weiffenbach, didn't immediately return a telephone message Saturday.

Sheriff's investigators said they were responsible for a blow to the back of Lucas' head that rendered him comatose -- and led to his death.

The boy weighed 27 pounds when he died May 13 at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. He had 200 bruises and scratches on his arm. He was malnourished and dehydrated. Five of his ribs had been broken for as long as six months. He hadn't seen a doctor in more than two years, detectives said.

"He was literally hated by his adoptive mother, and she thought of him as nothing short of an animal," Wells said.

The Ciambrones, who lived in the town of Rubonia between Tampa Bay and Sarasota, began caring for Lucas and his sister four years ago, after the children's natural mother was murdered and stepfather was put in prison. Two years ago, the Ciambrones adopted the pair.

Soon, the Ciambrones began severely punishing Lucas, a troubled youth who threw frequent temper tantrums and sometimes grew violent, investigators said.

The boy repeatedly urinated and defecated on the floor, the parents told investigators. Detectives said the Ciambrones beat and tortured the boy as punishment.

Before the couple adopted Lucas, several people told the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services that the Ciambrones may not be able to provide the child with adequate care.

But HRS allowed the couple to adopt Lucas, his sister and, later, an infant boy. The Ciambrones first took in the boy and his sister as foster children four years ago.

The other two children are now with foster parents and there are no signs they were abused, HRS said.

There were no glaring problems in Ciambrones' file to suggest they would be bad parents, said Chip Taylor, HRS's district administrator.

"There was nothing glaring that stood out that said, 'This child is in imminent danger of this happening,"' said spokesman Tom Jones. "When you deal with people, you just don't know. You take your chances and roll the dice."

1995 Jul 9