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Starved teen locked in Helena basement gives horrifying testimony at parent's sentencing


by Stephen Quinn

COLUMBIANA, Ala. — Richard and Cynthia Kelly, the Helena foster parents who plead guilty in December to abusing their starving son by keeping him locked in a basement room were sentenced to ten years in prison but will only have to serve two years as part of a previously arranged plea deal.

The verdict was handed down Thursday evening following six-hours of testimony. The sentencing hearing saw the family members back together in the same room again nearly four years to the day the Kelly's son was admitted to Shelby Baptist Medical Center severely malnourished and nearly dead according to doctors.

Helena Police Department Detective Sean Boczar began the hearing by testifying how for roughly two years until their arrest in November 2016, the Kelly's kept their 14-year-old adopted son locked in a room in the basement nearly 23-hours a day.

Pictures presented in the hearing revealed the prison-like living conditions. The bare room featured locks, a camera, alarm system and a lone box spring where the boy slept. Boczar burst into tears when asked about the dark stained curtains covering the closed window. The detective said the curtains were the only thing the boy had to dry his hands.

The victim, who is now 18-years-old testified, at the sentencing hearing. ABC 33/40 News is not reporting the victim's name. The boy claimed the abuse at the hands of the Kelly's began after the couple gave up custody of his older biological brother whom they had also adopted.

"I cried every night praying for Jesus to end it all," he testified.

The victim said vacations and trips to restaurants were a welcome break from the physical and mental abuse he claimed he endured beginning at seven-years-old.

"I lived the story of Cinderella with no happy ending,"

The story of horrors came to light four years ago when Richard Kelly brought the boy to Shelby County Baptist Medical Center weighing only 55 pounds. "You just struggle to wrap your head around it," said Helena Police Chief Pete Folmar at the time. The 20-year law enforcement veteran who is now retired called it then one of the worst cases of neglect he had ever seen.

Dr. Melissa Peters, Medical Director of Physical Abuse Services at Children's of Alabama's CHIPS Center testified the boy had a body temperature only in the high 80's when he was admitted, significantly lower than the standard temperature of 98.6 degrees.

"It was exceedingly severe and frankly on the verge of death...his body was failing in all the essentials ways to keep him alive," Peters said.

Pictures showed the boy in his hospital bed with scrapes and lesions on his knees. Peters testified the lesions were consistent with pressure injuries. The boy testified his parents had strapped him to a chair at times with cables.

Richard and Cynthia Kelly both took the stand and denied ever physically abusing their son. The two admitted the boy and his older brother, whom they adopted through Lifeline Children's Services, had been difficult to raise.

The couple said the boy became even more difficult to handle after the Kelly's gave up custody of his older brother. The Kelly's claimed their youngest son destroyed his possessions which is why police found his room bare.

"You just want to say, 'I'm sorry this happened,'" said Richard Kelly before breaking into tears on the stand.

The Kelly's had another child Tamara Kelly who they adopted when she was two months old and were also watching another young man who had been abandoned by his parents. Prosecutors said the living conditions for these two children were significantly different. Kelly was active in cheerleading and family pictures of the girl were present across the house. The girl also denied seeing her brother abused and supported her parent's claim her brother was not well-behaved and destroyed his belonging.

Assistant Shelby County District Attorney Daniel McBrayer noted how police investigators found presents to the two children and family dog but none for the

"They sought out to have these children and then appeared to not want them once they had them. It's incredibly frustrating that this is the way this ended."

Judge Bill Bostick sentenced the couple to a ten-year split sentence with two years to serve. The sentence was the maximum allowed as part of a plea agreement made by prosecutors in December which allowed the couple to plead down from Aggravated Child Abuse to Child Abuse. The victim testified he had told prosecutors at the time he did not want to testify or see his parents in prison.

The victim's views had clearly changed by Thursday's hearing. Defense attorney's openly questioned whether a civil suit filed against the Kelly's by the boy's older brother had swayed his desire to see his parents in prison.

"You've come to the right place," said Bostic, directly addressing the boy's desire from the bench before handing down his sentence.

The judge made clear he wished he could have handed down a significantly harsher sentence of 20 years to life in prison if he was able.

"I do accept ----- had problems but parents are supposed to treat problems not ignore them," Bostick said.

The Kelly's were immediately taken into custody to begin their two-year sentence. The couple will serve three years probation following their release and are permanently barred from ever serving as foster parents or from adopting a child. The couple will each also have to pay a $10,000 fine and court costs.

"We hope that this brings him some solace," said McBrayer about the 18-year-old boy who ultimately testified. "We hope that going forward that people listen when he makes a complain of things that happen and that the world cares about him even when he was forgotten."

2020 Nov 13