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Parents get prison for starving boy


Parents get prison for starving boy

They are accused of locking their adopted son, who was 13 at the time, in his room for days

Posted: Tuesday, October 7, 2008 1:00 am

Dan Galindo

Two parents will each spend 20 to 33 months in prison after a judge sentenced them for starving their son.

Paul Salvetti, 45, and Debbie Salvetti, 40, entered Alford pleas in Forsyth Superior Court yesterday as part of a deal with prosecutors.

An Alford plea is a type of plea in which a defendant does not admit guilt but agrees to be sentenced because they believe that the state has enough evidence to get a conviction.

In exchange for their pleas, prosecutors agreed to let them plead to a lower-level child-abuse charge.

The Salvettis were accused of keeping their adopted son, who was 13 at the time, locked in his room for days in May 2007, feeding him so little that he lost weight when he should have been going through a growth spurt, prosecutor Pansy Glanton said.

The boy's window was painted black to block light and boarded up, Glanton said.

The boy weighed 87 pounds when police officers first spoke to him. When he was treated at a hospital, he gained 10 pounds in four days, according to a search warrant in the case.

Debbie Salvetti had been charged with two counts of felony child abuse inflicting serious injury. Paul Salvetti faced one charge.

The boy escaped by kicking a hole through a wall to a sibling's room. He spent a night in a park, then went the next morning to a school that he used to attend and told an employee about the abuse, Glanton said.

The Department of Social Services had investigated the Salvettis in February 2007, after the boy accused Debbie Salvetti of hitting him with a frying pan. The investigation did not lead to charges.

The Salvettis had five children. Social-services workers took them from the home and four remain with social services, Glanton said. The fifth is now older than 18.

Pete Clary, an attorney for Paul Salvetti, and Ken Tisdale, Debbie Salvetti's attorney, both said they were disappointed with the sentence.

Both asked Burke for probation for their clients and said they believed that there were major problems with the boy's truthfulness.

Clary and Tisdale said that their clients may have made bad decisions, but ones that did not amount to abuse. And they were dealing with an extremely troubled child, they argued.

"We should have gone to trial," Clary said afterward. He said in court that Paul Salvetti entered the plea against Clary's advice.

Dr. Ronald Federici, a neuropsychologist hired by the Salvettis who specializes in cases of troubled adopted children, testified that he did not believe the Salvettis committed abuse.

He said he believed that the boy was unmanageable and tended to lie. The boy's medical tests and appearance did not support an allegation of starvation, he said.

The Salvettis had consulted Federici after the first social-services investigation but before the one that led to charges.

Federici said he suggested a plan for the boy in which he would steadily have to earn privileges.

Federici said after the verdict that he thought "this case was coerced" by the social workers working with the boy.

He said that the boy's statement to court introduced new details and was written at a level beyond what the boy was capable of.

"The truth of the matter is, they pled," Glanton said when told of Federici's remark. "They could have had a trial -- that's their constitutional right, the last time I checked."

Brenda Evans, the deputy director of the county's department of social services, said that social workers would never put words in a child's mouth.

Evans said she could only respond in general terms, not about a specific case.

"It is really quite surprising how eloquent children can be in describing what they've had to endure," she said.

Social-services workers and employees of the guardian ad litem program in the courtroom reacted with relief when Judge Todd Burke sentenced the Salvettis to prison.

One hugged the boy and told him, "Somebody finally believed you."

■ Dan Galindo can be reached at 727-7377 or at dgalindo@wsjournal.com.

2008 Oct 7