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Abuse lawsuit's award $6 million; Defendant is in prison for porn


Jessica Rocha, Staff Writer

An Orange County judge ordered an imprisoned Fuquay-Varina man to pay $6 million to a girl he met in an orphanage, later obtained custody of and repeatedly raped for about two years.

Superior Court Judge Carl Fox ordered James McDaniel-Webb, 49, to pay the girl $2 million in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages. He is currently in federal prison on Internet pornography convictions related to the abuse of the girl. After that, he will be sent to state prison for statutory rape of the girl.

"We think the award sends a clear message for those responsible for children that they have a duty to protect them from abuse," said Michael W. Patrick, the girl's court-appointed guardian. "Child abuse has been called the murder of the soul."

Monday's judgment was issued in McDaniel-Webb's absence because he never responded to the civil lawsuit even though he was served the papers. The suit, filed in 2004, also named the Masonic Home for Children at Oxford Inc., the Granville County orphanage where McDaniel-Webb first met the girl when he served as a volunteer.

The orphanage settled its part of the lawsuit in January for an undisclosed amount, and representatives have said that changes have been made to prevent similar abuses from happening in the future.

Before allegations against McDaniel-Webb surfaced in 2003, he was known as a wealthy local computer wiz who fashioned himself a "Bill Gates Jr."

He started to volunteer at the Masonic Home in 1999, donating "substantial" money that the lawsuit alleged made the orphanage overlook his criminal past. When he was 19, McDaniel-Webb was convicted of aiding and abetting an escaped prisoner, his father.

McDaniel-Webb apparently forged a bond with the then 12-year-old girl, who had been sent to the home by her adoptive parents.

He hosted her on overnight visits, and eventually persuaded her adoptive parents to sign over their custody of her.

In a 2001 letter, McDaniel-Webb wrote them:

"She has only a few school years remaining, surely you would agree that she deserves some happiness and stability during that time."

If she remained at the orphanage other teens would be a bad influence because they all "smoke, run off to meet boys, etc.," he added.

Later in the letter, McDaniel-Webb offered the girl's adoptive parents compensation "reasonable for 12 years of child care as any amount up to $36,000" if they agreed to transfer custody "quickly and amicably."

Fox said the $6 million judgment was based on the plaintiff's estimate of $2 million in future costs, including treatment. Fox then doubled that for the punitive portion.

"[McDaniel-Webb] used his financial resources to obtain custody of the child to abuse her," Fox said, calling the action wanton.

Despite the judge's order, Patrick said it will be difficult to collect the money. "This allows us to start the process of looking for his assets," he said.

The girl, now 17, is living in foster care and attending high school, Patrick said.

"She is very bright and trying very hard to get on with her life," he said. "But this is a situation where it leaves a lot of scars."

Staff writer Jessica Rocha can be reached at 932-2008 or jessica.rocha@newsobserver.com

2006 Mar 28