The father and stepmother of a 15-year-old girl who was found badly malnourished, barefoot and wearing only pajamas outdoors last month were ordered to stand trial Friday after a child abuse expert testified that she suffered from serial child torture.
Dr. Barbara Knox, a child abuse expert at American Family Children's Hospital, said the girl suffered from chronic starvation so severe that she had the weight of the average 9-year-old and the height of the average 11-year-old.
In addition to being starved, the girl suffered from serial child torture, she said.
District Attorney Ismael Ozanne now has 30 days to file the charges that he intends to take to trial, and once that is done Chad Chritton, 40, and Melinda Drabek-Chritton, 42, will enter formal pleas to those charges. That will be done before Dane County Circuit Judge Julie Genovese, the trial judge in the case.
For now, they are charged with first-degree reckless endangerment, child abuse and child neglect. The girl's stepbrother, Joshua Drabek, who waived his right to a preliminary hearing, is charged with two counts of child sexual assault and child abuse and will be arraigned on Thursday.
Circuit Judge Amy Smith ruled Friday that there was enough evidence to find that Chritton and Drabek-Chritton had committed a felony after hearing testimony from Knox and after watching a video recording of a two-hour interview with the girl conducted at Safe Harbor. The video, released to the media on Tuesday, showed a small, thin girl dressed in baggy sweat clothes, speaking in the voice of a much younger child. She described being kept in the basement of her family's home at 4609 Treichel St. and fed little, and how she was punished for leaving the basement.
Ozanne said media that made use of the video properly concealed the girl's face but some failed to blur a whiteboard in the interview room upon which the girl's name and date of birth could be read. He did not specifically identify those media outlets.
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Smith again admonished the media to take proper precautions to preserve the girl's privacy, as she had ordered on Tuesday.
On the witness stand, Knox said the girl's condition had also caused her to stop menstruating and developing into an adult. She said there was no evidence of anorexia or bulimia.
Knox said the girl weighed 68 pounds on Feb. 6, compared to weighing 82.4 pounds nearly six years earlier, on June 23, 2006. She said that had her starvation continued, the girl could have died.
In a sometimes-testy cross examination, Chritton's lawyer William Hayes questioned Knox's conclusions and whether she had considered the girl's entire medical record in reaching her conclusions, including an admission to Meriter Hospital's psychiatric ward in November 2006 for what was described as aggressiveness toward her family, difficulty sleeping and odd behavior.
Knox said that Meriter staff did not observe those behaviors, which were reported to the hospital by Chritton.
Drabek-Chritton's lawyer, Thomas McClure, questioned whether it was a "big lie" for the girl to say that she was locked in the basement when there was a lock on the inside of the door.
But Knox said that having an alarm on the basement door that sounded when she opened it and being punished for coming out of the basement was psychologically the same as being locked up.