Updated: 03/14/2013 6:30 PM KSTP.com By: Scott Theisen
A Wisconsin man locked his 16-year-old daughter in his basement so people wouldn't know he was slowly starving her, prosecutors told jurors Thursday, even as defense attorneys countered the girl was a liar and chose not to eat.
A passing motorist found the girl wandering around her neighborhood on the outskirts of Madison in February 2012. She was barefoot, freezing and weighed just 68 pounds, prosecutors said. She told investigators her father and stepmother had locked her in the basement, forced her to scrounge for food and punished her if she was caught eating without permission.
Her father has been charged with five felony counts, including child abuse and false imprisonment, and a misdemeanor charge of child neglect. Attorneys delivered their closing arguments in his three-week trial Thursday and handed the case to the jury. The man faces up to 43 years in prison and nine months in jail if he's convicted on all counts.
The Associated Press is not naming the father to prevent identifying the girl, who also told investigators that she had been sexually assaulted by her stepbrother. Her stepmother and stepbrother also face charges in the case.
The girl testified earlier in the trial that her father and stepmother kept her locked in the basement, where she slept on a moldy mattress. She previously told investigators that she had to scavenge for food and sometimes was forced to eat her feces and drink her own urine. If she was caught eating without permission, the couple would make her throw out the food or vomit it back up.
Defense attorney William Hayes spent an hour and a half in his closing arguments painting the girl as liar with schizophrenia. He said her father spent years trying to get her mental health care but suffers from a learning disability himself and couldn't "figure it out."
The man moved his daughter into the basement at the advice of a psychologist, and then she refused to eat and urinated and defecated on the floor to show her father and stepmother that she disrespected them, the attorney said.
The girl had threatened to kill her stepmother and chop off her half-brother's fingers, and then during her testimony, she blamed the threats on someone inside her named Tina, Hayes told jurors.
"If that's not multiple personalities, it's not taking responsibility for your actions," Hayes told the jury. "Do you really think you have sufficient evidence before you to convict (the father) beyond a reasonable doubt?"
But Dane County Assistant District Attorney Matthew Moeser insisted during his closings that the family had denied the girl food and that she urinated and defecated on the floor because they wouldn't let her use the bathroom. He showed the jury photographs of an alarm system on the basement door, a camera in the corner of the basement and a motion sensor on the ceiling over her bed.
Moeser told the jury during his rebuttal that Hayes wanted them to think the girl dreamed up some grand conspiracy to fool investigators, doctors and the jurors themselves. He said her father didn't do enough to get the girl the help she needed and then hid her away from the world to keep her from telling.
"(The girl's) needs were not met. Not met because of decisions made by (her father)," Moeser told jurors, adding later: "It's a tragedy, what was done to her. ... Only you are in the position to do what needs to be done in this case ... hold (her father) accountable."
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 with a trial set for June.
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