- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 2002

A Pennsylvania couple faces homicide charges in connection with the death Wednesday of the woman's severely malnourished son four days after he was found wandering in a Florida town weighing 62 pounds.
Janice Goodman said Chester Lee Miller, 18, of Hazleton, Pa., "looked like a Holocaust victim" when he knocked on the door of her home in Milton, Fla., Sept. 21. She said she did not know the youth, whose eyes were sunken and who was so weak he could barely stand. He asked to take a shower and be able to rest. Mrs. Goodman said she gave him a sandwich and something to drink, and called the police.
Before his death four days later, Chester told authorities that his stepfather, Paul Hoffman Sr., 38, had put him on a bus for Florida and told him to look for his "real father." Mr. Hoffman and Chester's mother, Lydia Miller, 37, both of Hazleton, were charged Tuesday in Pennsylvania with aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person. Hazleton Police Chief Edward Harry said Wednesday that the mother and stepfather face homicide charges.
There are no national data on the incidence of cases involving children whose parents either starve them to death or keep them severely malnourished. But prosecutors and child welfare specialists say intentional starvation cases constitute a form of child abuse that can be hard to detect.
"It's fairly common, although most cases don't result in death," said Victor Vieth, director of the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse, an affiliate of the National District Attorneys' Association.
He said, "It takes a long time to starve a child," and it may take time for others to notice a child is malnourished. So parents who use this form of abuse feel this is a way "to punish a child" and at the same time "fool others," Mr. Vieth said.
The Chester Miller starvation case comes less than a week after a couple in Tampa Bay was arrested on charges that they locked up the woman's 7-year-old daughter in a room for four months and gave her so little food she looked like a "walking skeleton," according to police. Connie Warrington, 23, and her boyfriend, David LaPointe, 36, are in custody and have been charged with several counts of aggravated child abuse. Miss Warrington's daughter weighed just 29 pounds and was covered in bruises when law enforcement authorities found her earlier this month.
Some other recent similar cases are:
Three weeks ago, Lawrence Beard, 49, of Pontiac, Mich., was charged with starving to death his 17-year-old disabled son, Jonathan. The youth had cerebral palsy and could not care for himself. The father has pleaded not guilty.
"It appears he didn't want to care for his son anymore," said James Halushka, director of warrants and investigations for the Oakland County, Mich., prosecutor's office.
In June, Rei Fujii, a young Japanese mother living illegally in Canada, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a Calgary court after allowing her two babies to starve while she partied. The children, a 15-month-old boy and a 3-month-old girl, were left unattended in an apartment without food or drink while their mother went out of town with a boyfriend for 10 days.
cIn January, Barbara Atkinson, 30, of Hutchins, Texas, was sentenced to life imprisonment for starving her 8-year-old daughter in a locked and filthy closet. The young girl, who was severely emaciated but alive when found by police, had been kept in a closet and other enclosed places for four years with little or no food. When rescued, the girl weighed 25 pounds and stood 3 feet tall. At Atkinson's trial, a relative said she believed that the defendant had been looking for a burial plot.
Linda Spears, associate vice president for program operations at the Child Welfare League of America, said, "There are no national [numerical] data and not much in the way of state or regional data" about cases in which children are intentionally underfed. Like Mr. Vieth, she said cases in which children are starved to the point of death are rare.
"But these cases have been regularly out there, cases in which either from maliciousness, ignorance, mental illness, exhaustion or being overwhelmed, parents do not feed their children well," Ms. Spears added.
Mr. Vieth said the prosecution center receives about 4,000 reports of child abuse each year. "A couple hundred of those involve kids being denied enough to eat," he said.
Susan S. Kreston, deputy director of the prosecution center, has published reports about the early childhood disorder known as "failure to thrive," in which children's growth deviates significantly below the norms for their age and sex. She said not all deaths of children that result from malnutrition are correctly classified.
"On the criminal side, there are a whole lot of cases, but I doubt many get diagnosed," Ms. Kreston said.
She said a child who is severely malnourished becomes weak, loses resistance to infections and frequently contracts pneumonia or some other disease that may be fatal.
The child's death certificate is likely to cite pneumonia as the cause of death, Ms. Kreston said, despite the fact that "but for the failure to be fed, the child would not have died."
It's not always easy to determine whether a starvation case belongs on the civil or criminal docket.
Investigators in Carlisle, Pa., are trying to decide whether a 4-year-old boy who died July 30 described by doctors as "grossly malnourished" was a homicide victim. Anthony Quincy Thomas weighed 20 pounds at the time of his death, about as much as an average nine-month-old baby, news reports said.
Attorneys for the boy's parents, Anthony Edward Thomas and Shenique Thomas, contend that a medical condition may have caused the malnutrition.
Cumberland County District Attorney M.L. "Skip" Ebert said, "We're still waiting for the test results, but we're still investigating this as a potential homicide," Of the boy's emaciation he said, "The parents should have noticed and taken him to the doctor's office."


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