Judge orders trial in Wisconsin starved-teen case

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A 15-year-old girl who wasted away to 68 pounds lost the weight because of years of chronic starvation, not because of an eating disorder, a doctor testified Friday in a preliminary hearing for the parents accused of denying the girl food.

Dr. Barbara Knox, a director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Children's Hospital, said the girl weighed a healthy 82 pounds as a 9-year-old, but wasted away to a dangerously underweight 68 pounds by February.

"Children are growing into little adults," Knox testified, "so we expect them to gain weight, not lose it."

She said she found no evidence of anorexia, bulimia or any other eating disorder in the Madison teen. She reiterated her diagnosis that the girl suffered "serial child torture" with prolonged starvation.

The girl's father and stepmother are charged with child abuse, child neglect and reckless endangerment. In a separate case, the girl's 18-year-old stepbrother is charged with forcing her to perform oral sex.

The Associated Press typically does not name the alleged victims of sexual assault, and it is not naming the defendants in order to protect the girl's identity.

Knox examined the girl Feb. 10, four days after she was hospitalized after running away from home wearing in thin pajamas. The 15-year-old had the weight of an average 9½-year-old and the height of an average 11½-year-old, the doctor said.

"If you line up 100 children (the girl's) age, she would weigh less than the skinniest child," Knox said.

In a videotaped interview released this week, the girl softly tells a police detective she was largely confined to her parents' basement. She says most of the food she ate was scraps she found on the floor or in the garbage, and that she was forced to bathe in a basement sink and relieve herself in boxes or containers.

The girl says she tried to leave home several times, but her family always found her and brought her back.

"I've just had it," she says at one point, breaking into tears. "I just don't even want to go back there."

Defense attorney William Hayes, who represents the 40-year-old father, cross-examined Knox. His questions seemed to suggest he was skeptical of the girl's mental health and the truthfulness of her allegations.

He asked whether Knox's diagnosis would be affected if the doctor found out the girl had self-mutilation tendencies or that she suffered head trauma while living with her biological mother. He also referred to a clinical psychologist's report that apparently said the girl created fantasies to compensate for the rage she felt for being abandoned by her mother.

Knox said she'd be happy to review any reports that provided more information.

Later, Hayes said the father suspected the girl may be anorexic. Knox said nothing in her diagnosis supported that.

She said the girl's behavior in the hospital was consistent with that of a persistently starved person. The girl ordered as many items from the menu as she could, then hoarded the food and tucked some away for later, Knox testified.

Judge Amy Smith found probable cause to advance to trial. An arraignment date hasn't been set.

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Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.

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