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Girl testifies that Allains starved her

The girl and her brother detail how she was denied food, but the defense attorney says the child's weight loss was not the Allains' fault.


BROOKSVILLE - The small girl with the soft voice sat still Wednesday afternoon and told a jury how she was starved. She also identified the two people in the courtroom who she said kept her locked in a room and didn't give her the food she needed.

The first day of the much-anticipated Allains' child abuse and neglect trial included jury selection, opening statements from attorneys and testimony from a doctor in St. Petersburg and a caseworker from the state Department of Children and Families.

The most pointed, most telling testimony, though, came from the girl and her brother.

Both of them said they were treated well when they first moved into the double-wide mobile home on Hurricane Drive in northwest Hernando County.

And both of them said that changed.

Lori Allain, 49, and Arthur "Tommy" Allain, 48, are accused of allowing the girl to get down to 29 pounds when she was 10 years old. Her brother ran away in May 2004 and told authorities. The Allains were arrested in June 2004.

The Allains were the long-term, nonrelative and state-approved caregivers for the girl and her brother. The kids had started staying with the Allains in 2000 and were placed with them for good two years later. The Allains have two grown daughters and four boys.

They skipped the start of their trial last October and were on the lam until they were caught in New Jersey in January. When they were on the run, and since they've been back and in the Hernando County Jail, they've said in a series of interviews with the St. Petersburg Times that the girl had an eating disorder that made her vomit, that she was small to begin with because of prior abuse and neglect with her alcoholic biological mother, that they had asked for help from DCF and never got it, that they did the best they could.

Lori Allain's court-appointed attorney said many of the same things in his opening statement on Wednesday.

"These are children who have been through a lot in their lives, more than any child should," Robert Christensen of Homosassa Springs told the jury. "However, it was not at the hands of Lori and Tommy Allain."

That, of course, is up for debate, but some key facts were reiterated on the first day of what's expected to be a three- to four-day trial:

The girl weighed 29 pounds when she was weighed late on May 15, 2004, at the hospital in Brooksville.

She weighed 31.5 pounds the next day at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. She was 101/2 years old.

Assistant State Attorney Sherry Byerly asked the doctor from St. Petersburg if he and his colleagues had found any evidence of an eating disorder.

He said no.

She asked if there were any signs of fetal alcohol syndrome.

No again.

She asked the doctor for his "expert professional" opinion on why the girl was the way she was in May 2004, and the doctor's response was straight and blunt: "My opinion," was that she did not receive enough food, enough calories, to gain weight." He said her "severe malnutrition" had been going on for one to two years and could end up having permanent negative effects on the development of her body and her brain.

The girl and her brother explained how it happened.

By the end, there was nothing in the girl's room, they both testified - no bed, no dresser, no toys - and there was a double-key deadbolt on the door, and she was often forced to urinate on the floor, and the Allains didn't have her eat with the rest of the family when she ate at all. The boy said his sister was kept in her room "almost all day" and "almost all night." They both said they were scared to say anything to anyone from DCF or the Sheriff's Office until after they knew they weren't going back to the Allains.

The girl came into the courtroom early Wednesday afternoon. She had on a green dress and a matching headband and shiny white patent-leather shoes. She held on to a stuffed-animal cat.

Byerly asked her questions.

How had she been treated at first by Tommy Allain?

"He treated me well," the girl said.

And Lori Allain?

"She treated me well."

"Did that change?" Byerly asked.

"Yes," the girl said.

"In what way?"

"Starving me."

"Did you sneak food?"


"Why did you do that?" Byerly asked.

"Because I was hungry," the girl said.

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or 352 848-1434.

2006 Mar 16