exposing the dark side of adoption
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Mother of dead boy gets 6 years


The Franklin Twp. woman was convicted of endangering the welfare of her son, 5, adopted from Russia six weeks earlier.

Adam Fifield

The Philadelphia Inquirer

A Franklin Township woman accused in the death of her adopted 5-year-old son was sentenced yesterday to six years in state prison for knowingly harming or neglecting the child.

Heather G. Lindorff, 39, held her husband's hand and wept softly as Judge Julio Mendez read the sentence in Superior Court in Gloucester County.

Her husband, James, 54, was sentenced to four years of probation and 400 hours of community service for his conviction on a charge of child abuse.

Jacob Lindorff died Dec. 14, 2001. Prosecutors contended that Heather Lindorff had burned and beaten the boy, delivering the fatal blow to the head just six weeks after he was adopted from Russia.

Heather Lindorff was acquitted in December of aggravated manslaughter and second-degree aggravated assault but convicted of endangering the welfare of a child.

Paramedics called to the home were unable to revive Jacob after he stopped breathing. Gloucester County Medical Examiner Gerald Feigin ruled that the boy had died of blunt head trauma and testified that he believed all of Jacob's injuries had been less than six weeks old.

The defense argued in the three-week trial that Jacob had been abused by his biological mother and later by older boys in a Russian orphanage. They said Jacob died when a severe head injury he had suffered in Russia began to "re-bleed."

Stephen Patrick, Lindorff's lawyer, called the death a tragedy but said there was no direct evidence that Lindorff had burned or beaten the child or intentionally hurt him. He also said the Lindorffs had adopted five other children, saving them from lives of abuse in Russia.

Heather Lindorff was ordered yesterday to report April 23 to the Gloucester County Women's Correctional Facility in Clarksboro. She could be eligible for parole within two years.

The Lindorffs adopted Jacob and his two brothers a year after adopting three Russian sisters. The children sat in the courtroom yesterday, some crying as their mother made an emotional appeal to the judge.

Lindorff said her children "are my reason for being. . . . My worst fear is to be taken away from them. I think I need them more than they need me.

"I wish I had seen things and done things differently."

Her husband also pleaded with the judge: "Your honor, don't break up this family. This is a good family. . . . This isn't the house of horrors portrayed by the prosecutor."

Senior Assistant Gloucester County Prosecutor Mary Pyffer recommended a 10-year sentence for Heather Lindorff, citing "the totality of harm to this child."

"We have a little boy who came into our country seemingly healthy, and six weeks later he's dead," Pyffer said outside the courtroom. She said that in addition to the head injury, Jacob's feet and back had been burned while he was in the Lindorffs' care.

The judge said he was moved by the Lindorffs' decision to adopt Russian children. "They indeed rescued these children and brought them to the U.S.," he said.

But Mendez also said that the evidence supported the convictions, and that it was important to send a message: "The law must protect children."

A few weeks after Jacob's death, a Family Court judge gave legal custody of the four youngest children, ages 7 to 13, to Heather Lindorff's mother. The oldest, a 19-year-old, has been living with the Lindorffs on their Victoria Avenue farm.

Before the sentencing, Patrick argued that his client had been denied due process and should be acquitted. That motion and a request for a new trial by James Lindorff's lawyer, Stephen Kernan, were denied.

Contact staff writer Adam Fifield at 856-779-3917 or afifield@phillynews.com.

2004 Mar 31