- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2009

CENTENNIAL, Colo. | A Colorado jury found Aaron Thompson guilty Monday in the presumed death of his young daughter Aarone, who disappeared from the family’s home anywhere from four to six years ago but whose body has never been found.

The jury deliberated for nine days before finding Thompson, 41, guilty of child abuse resulting in death. He was found guilty of another 30 charges and not guilty on 22 counts, all related to his involvement in the abuse of Aarone and seven other children living under his care in Aurora, Colo.

Jurors deadlocked on two additional counts related to the abuse of a corpse. Arapahoe County Judge Valeria Spencer ruled a mistrial in those charges.

Despite the split verdict, the decision came as a victory for Arapahoe County prosecutors in that Thompson was found guilty of the most serious charges related to Aarone’s death - child abuse resulting in death. His sentence will be determined at a later hearing, but he could face more than 50 years in prison.

The Arapahoe County District Attorney’s Office never charged him with murder or any form of direct homicide. As a result, Thompson is ineligible for the death penalty.

The verdict followed a harrowing six-week trial in which prosecutors portrayed the Thompson home as a house of horrors in which the children routinely suffered severe beatings with belts, cords and a baseball bat at the hands of Thompson and his live-in girlfriend, Shelley Lowe.

The Thompson defense team argued that it was Miss Lowe who beat the children and that he was largely unaware of the extent of the abuse, but that he did participate in the cover-up after Aarone’s death. Miss Lowe died in 2006 of a heart attack at the age of 33.

Thompson reported Aarone missing in November 2005, telling investigators that she ran away after a fight over a cookie. She would have been 6 years old at the time. Police now suspect that Aarone had been dead for two years before the call, and that the household’s other children were enlisted to cover up her disappearance.

The children - Aarone’s brother Aaron Jr., Miss Lowe’s five children and her brother, Rajon Russell - were told that Aarone had gone to live in Detroit with her biological mother. Within days after a massive police manhunt failed to turn up Aarone’s whereabouts, authorities removed the other children from the house and placed them in foster care.

How Aarone died remained something of a mystery even after the trial. A former boyfriend of Miss Lowe’s testified that she told him that Aarone accidentally stopped breathing in the bathtub. Fearing authorities would take away the other children, she and Thompson buried Aarone in a field.

But Miss Lowe’s oldest son testified that Thompson became enraged after finding that Aarone had wet herself while confined to a closet for punishment. He took her upstairs to a bathroom and beat her with a brush until she stopped crying, according to the boy.

Other children testified that they hadn’t seen Aarone for nearly two years. A girl in the household was told to pretend to be Aarone on the telephone when her mother called, according to testimony.

The case has led to demands for increased monitoring of at-risk children by social-service agencies. Many have asked how Thompson could have gotten away with keeping Aarone’s disappearance hidden for two years. But Aarone’s wasn’t yet enrolled in school when she was believed to have died, and few beyond her immediate family knew of her existence.

Her mother, who had struggled with addiction issues, lived in a different state and rarely saw her.

Even today, authorities only have a vague idea of what she looked like. The only photo ever produced of Aarone showed her in the background of a group shot, slightly fuzzy, squinting in the sun.

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