exposing the dark side of adoption
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Kathleen and Martin O'Brien plead not guilty to child abuse charges


By Andrea Anderson

ELKHORN—A Lake Geneva couple accused of abusing their children told at least one adopted child that if he or she told anyone about the abuse, the child would be sent back to his or her respective country, Judge James Carlson said Tuesday.

Kathleen and Martin O'Brien were charged in May 2012 with a combined 23 felony and misdemeanor charges of abusing their six children—some adopted from Guatemala and the former Soviet Union. Accusations range from spraying the children with pepper spray to making them stand outside shoeless in the winter

In September, attorneys for the O'Briens filed motions to dismiss or modify five charges, saying prosecutors were too vague about when the crimes supposedly happened.

Carlson denied the motions Tuesday, and the O'Briens pleaded not guilty to the remaining charges.

Kathleen, 52, pleaded not guilty to four felony counts of child abuse and one misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct. Martin, 52, pleaded not guilty to six felony counts of child abuse.

Several of Kathleen's and Martin's original felony and misdemeanor charges were dismissed or dropped before September, according to an amended criminal complaint and court records.

The recently challenged charges accuse Martin of kneeing a then 8-to-10-year-old in the genitals and picking up a then 5-to-6-year-old by the neck. Kathleen's charges allege she tore the ear of a then 7-year-old and hit the hand a then 10-to-11-year-old for taking pudding.

The attorneys argued the prosecution has plenty of information gathered during the investigation to narrow the charging periods.

A binder filled with more than 3,000 pages of interviews, psychological evaluations and medical visits was repeatedly referenced in court.

“The state, having seen virtually every document generated about this family over the past 10 years—a total of more than 3,500 pages—has every tool at its disposal to narrow the charging period,” defense attorney Kathleen Stilling wrote in one motion.

At Tuesday's hearing, Stilling and Kathleen Quinn, defense attorneys for the O'Briens, spent more than an hour questioning Bloomfield police investigator Lori Domino, who has led the investigation for more than three years. They questioned why she couldn't narrow the charging dates.

One charge could be narrowed, the others could not because time frames gathered from interviews with two of the O'Briens' adopted children do not match entirely.

The O'Briens remain free on signature bonds and will appear in court at 1:15 p.m. April 13 at the Walworth County Judicial Center.

2014 Dec 2