exposing the dark side of adoption
Register Log in

Horrific new details emerge in case of Shelby County teen kept in basement; Adoptive parents denied lower bond


By Carol Robinson | crobinson@al.com

A young Shelby County boy reportedly kept in "forced isolation" by his adoptive parents weighed only 47 pounds when he was hospitalized three months ago, and spent on average 23 hours a day in a concrete basement with little more than box-springs, a strip of fly paper and an Algebra textbook, police testified Wednesday.

In the couple's first court hearing in the case, it was revealed that they received $500 a month from the state through DHR to help take care of their son. Adopted children may receive an adoption subsidy if they meet the special needs criteria. This is paid by the federal Department of Health and Human Services and distributed to the family by Alabama DHR.

Richard and Cynthia Kelly, jailed on $1 million bond each since their November arrests, appeared in court as their attorneys argued for a lower bond. Shelby County Judge Daniel Crowson, however, refused to lower their bond and said there was enough evidence against the couple to send the case to a grand jury for indictment consideration.

The 14-year-old adopted son has since been released from the hospital and has been placed in a therapeutic foster home, where family says he appears to be happy and is doing well. A therapeutic foster home caters to the physical, emotional and social needs of children with emotional challenges.

The couple's lawyers previously claimed that their $1 million bond is "excessive and illegal," and were asking the amount to be reduced. "30 times the maximim of the bond schedule is grossly excessive,'' said attorney Jared Welborn, who represents Richard Kelly.

"There are people bonded out in Shelby County on murder cases for less than that,'' said attorney Barry Alvis, who represents Cynthia Kelly.

The plight of the young teen came to light the weekend of Nov. 12 when the boy was taken to Children's of Alabama. Helena Police Chief Pete Folmar said initially said the boy weighed roughly 55 pounds but testified in court Wednesday he actually weighed 47 pounds when he arrived at the hospital.

He was described by doctors as severely and chronically malnourished, dehydrated, suffering from acute respiratory distress, shock, hypothermia, hypothyroid and close to death. Pictures taken at the hospital of the boy were entered into evidence Wednesday showed pressure sores on his legs. He was also placed on a ventilator for about a week to help him breathe.

His adoptive parents two days later were charged with aggravated child abuse and have remained behind bars in Shelby County since their arrests. According to the arrest warrants for the parents, the couple is accused of denying food, nourishment and medical care to the boy, who was "subjected to forced isolation for extended period of time." Authorities have said that "isolation" was disciplinary in nature. There were no signs, however, the boy was handcuffed, chained or restrained.

Neither Richard nor Cynthia Kelly, who have lived in Helena for about 20 years, show any previous criminal record in Alabama. Richard Kelly worked in the computer technology field but had been unemployed for several weeks at the time of his arrest. Cynthia Kelly was a stay-at-home mother who home-schooled her adopted children.

The teen's biological brother, 18-year-old Eddie Carter, spoke extensively with AL.com. Now living in Arizona, Carter says he suffered the same neglect, abuse and despair at the hands of Richard and Cynthia Kelly. He said he was kept in the basement for weeks and months at a time.

"You're down there and nobody knows you're down there except the people in the house,'' said Carter in extensive interviews with AL.com. "It's up to those people to make sure everything's going to be all right and it's not all right and you're kinda lost. You sit in the corner and weigh out what means the most. It was horrible. Horrific.

"It gets to that point where you're like an animal,'' Carter said. "You feel like an animal."

Carter recently returned to Birmingham to try to visit his brother, but he wasn't ready to see him or any other family. Carter vows to be there for him if and when he's ready.

"We'll be all right, and I don't have to worry about anybody ever hurting my brother again,'' Carter said. "I just want to make sure everything I'm doing in Arizona and that I have lined up is beneficial not only for me but for him too. If I could talk to him, I'd let him know my place is always open to him. I'm his family."

In court Wednesday, Folmar testifed that Richard Kelly took his adopted son, referred to in court only as "EK," to Shelby Baptist Medical Center that November Sunday morning, saying he had been ill for about a week. Within hours of their arrival, the boy was airlifted to Children's of Alabama, where doctors told investigators "EK" would have likely been dead within three more hours.

The boy's body temperature upon arrival at Children's was 86 degrees. "The doctor said that was not a sufficient body temperature to sustain life,'' Folmar testified.

The chief also testified to the conditions in which "EK" was kept. The basement room had concrete floors, a box-spring, blanket and pillow as well as a hanging strip of fly paper and an Algebra textbook. The teen's clothing was kept in a plastic, three-drawer unit which contained a few shirts, pants and diapers.

There were locks on the outside of the doors, Folmar testified, and a video surveillance camera that had one time been trained on the box-springs and used to keep an eye on the teen, and his older brother who also had been previously locked in the basement, according to testimony.

Though the camera was no longer functional, Folmar said, but Richard Kelly told the chief they made "EK" think it still worked and that they were watching his behavior. Folmar testified that the boy was fed once a day, and fed food other than what the rest of the family was eating.

Cynthia Kelly told police "EK" had behavior issues and had threatened to harm the family. The parents said they kept him locked in the basement so that he wouldn't break things throughout the house, or damage their belongings. "If I didn't do that,'' she told the chief, "he would get out and break things."

She also told investigators they monitored his food intake because otherwise he would over-eat. Folmar testified that Cynthia Kelly told them that when "EK" was allowed out of the basement, his presence with the rest of the family agitated her Labrador retriever and it would "turn the house into a circus."

The chief said he asked Cynthia Kelly if she had sought professional help in dealing with "EK"'s behavioral issues and she indicated to him that "no one believed them." "I'll be honest with you," she told the chief, "We just got tired of it."

Folmar testifed that police interviewed several family friends, most of whom knew the Kelly family through cheer practice and cheer competitions of their daughter, Tamara Kelly. One recounted how she had been at a cheer party at the Kelly home where Cynthia Kelly had ordered a large amount of pizza for the group. She had put some aside for her husband to have when he got home from work, and noticed that some slices were missing.

Cynthia Kelly questioned "EK" about the missing pizza, and he denied taking it. The family friend, however, noticed that he had stuffed the pizza slices in his pockets.

Another family friend told police she had been to the home once and noticed multiple photos of the Tamara Kelly scattered throughout the home, but none of "EK."

The couple's defense attorneys said there were conflicting reports about "EK"'s treatment. Alvis questioned whether someone who was kept isolated in a basement for 23 hours a day and fed only once day could function normally in social settings without setting off questions by those around him, and whether he could continue to maintain good grades through homeschooling, which records show "EK" did.

Alvis also said in court Wednesday that "EK" had been an extra in the movie "Woodlawn" which was filmed in Birmingham in 2013. Folmar replied that that had happened, as well as most of the family friend interactions that Alvis was citing, before the beginning of the boy's two-year forced isolation.

Alvis also indicated that the reason there was no carpet or mattress in the basement was because "EK" was destructive and had torn up the carpet, as well as three mattresses.

The cases against the couple are being tried by Shelby County assistant district attorneys Gregg Lowery and Jody Tallie. The judge said the cases were consolidated only for the preliminary hearings and bond reduction hearings.

Though Welborn and Alvis argued that the $1 million is unreasonable, Tallie said she felt it best they stay behind bars. "This child was hours away from death,'' Tallie said.

Tallie told the judge there was a high probability the couple would be convicted of the Class B felony, which carries a sentence of two to 20 years in prison. Based on that, she said, they pose a serious flight risk.

2017 Feb 8