Posted at: 03/15/2013 10:46 AM
Updated at: 03/15/2013 11:09 PM
By: Scott Theisen
A Wisconsin man accused of starving and torturing his teenage daughter was convicted of child neglect late Friday, but the jury deadlocked on several other charges in what one juror described as "a very tough case for all of us to even sit through."
Prosecutors said the man denied food to his daughter, who weighed just 68 pounds when she fled her family's home in Madison last year, and subjected her to years of physical abuse. Defense attorneys said she suffered from mental illness and that her father had tried get her treatment.
Jurors found the 41-year-old Madison man guilty of felony child neglect, which carries a 6-year prison sentence. But they told the judge they couldn't reach a unanimous decision after more than 18 hours of deliberation on the other four felonies he faced, including intentional child abuse and false imprisonment. He was found not guilty of a misdemeanor neglect charge.
The Associated Press isn't naming the man to avoid identifying the girl, who said she was sexually assaulted by her stepbrother. He's been charged separately, as has the girl's stepmother.
One of the jurors, 48-year-old Christine Verdico, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday night that one juror whom she wouldn't name "was having a terrible time trying to make a decision." But she said the evidence clearly showed that the father's actions and inaction physically changed his daughter, which led jurors to the neglect conviction.
"That one was pretty much cut and dry with the evidence that was there," she said. "It was very emotional for all of us. It was a very tough case for all of us to even sit through."
During the three-week trial, prosecutors showed the jury photographs of the girl's skin-and-bones body. They also said her father had forced her to live in the basement for years. The teenager told investigators she sometimes was forced to eat her feces and drink her own urine.
But defense attorney William Hayes argued that the girl was a liar and was given adequate food and clothing but chose not to dress appropriately or eat well. He also said she had threatened her stepmother and half-brother. Hayes argued that her father made her live in the basement on the advice of a psychologist after he tried to get her mental health care.
The jury began deliberating Thursday afternoon, but after more than nine hours told the judge they were deadlocked. Dane County Circuit Judge Julie Genovese sent them home for the night but they resumed deliberations Friday morning. Jurors discussed the case for another nine-and-half hours before again telling Genovese they were still at an impasse. The judge then decided to end the deliberations.
Genovese granted District Attorney Ismael Ozanne's request to defer the father's sentencing until the trials of his wife and stepson end later this summer. He will remain free on bond until then.
The judge declared a mistrial on the four remaining felonies, which also include recklessly endangering safety and causing a child mental harm. That means the charges are still pending. If prosecutors choose to retry him, he could face nearly 37 years in prison if he's convicted of all charges.
Ozanne told Genovese he was "looking at" retrying the man on those counts. Asked outside the courtroom for clarification, Ozanne would say only the next defendant in line is the girl's stepmother. "That's our first concern," he said.
Hayes said outside the courtroom he was disappointed his client was found guilty of the neglect charge.
"I don't think when your client is convicted of a crime any attorney would be happy," he said, adding he fully expects Ozanne will prosecute the man again.
The girl, who testified against her father during the trial, had told investigators she spent most of five years confined in the basement of her family's Madison home, where she said she was beaten, sexually assaulted and denied food despite begging to be allowed to eat.
She told investigators the abuse started the month she turned 10. She said her stepmother beat her and her stepbrother repeatedly forced her to perform oral sex on him.
The girl left the house on Feb. 6, 2012, barefoot and lightly dressed. A passing motorist found her wandering and called police.
The girl's stepmother is scheduled for trial in April on similar child abuse-related charges. Her stepbrother faces two counts of sexual assault of a child and one count of child abuse. His trial is set for June.
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