Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Monster Mom

by Tina Dirmann

It's the most horrific of all crimest—he abuse of a small child at the hands of a parent.

As a former crime reporter, I've scanned countless evidence photos, taken by police to record the bruises, scratches, and scars marring small bodies. And yet, those were usually the lucky ones. Often, cases of abuse go too far. And by the time authorities get involved, it's a homicide.

Even though I haven't been a daily cop reporter for many years now, my mind still flashes back to those abuse cases as I take in the latest headlines. "Woman accused of not feeding 4-year-old," read one newspaper report. "Four year old Florida boy nearly starved to death," announced a television newscaster.

Deputies in the Florida Panhandle found this little guy near death, weighing in at just 10 pounds. I turned my eyes from the television and looked on my small cat, curled up on the couch, and couldn't help but think that my little feline probably weighed more than that 4-year-old boy. Normal weight for a child that age is about 35 pounds.

Turns out, he was also severely handicapped and denied medication needed to control frequent seizures.

How could you do it? I thought as they threw up the picture of his 19-year-old mom, Erin Brittany Markes (pictured above). She went by, day to day, knowing that her little boy was hungry, thirsty. His body was trembling at regular intervals from savage seizures.

The act is so unfathomable. Why? That's the only question after hearing a case like this. How could she?

It brought me back to the time I was a young journalist, covering an abuse case in San Bernardino County, California. In that case, the step-father of a 4-year-old little boy told the toddler to stand still and lift his arms so, he looked like a little letter "t."

"Make like an airplane," his step-father said.

And then he proceeded to pummel the kid in the stomach so hard, he ruptured the boy's insides, eventually killing him. Why would his step-father do that? The kid had apparently fallen asleep on the couch and soiled himself in his sleep. The urine soaked through and wet the couch cushions, infuriating the step-dad. It was, after all, a new couch.

I struggled to remain "neutral" or "objective" in that case. I remember looking at that father and just thinking, "Monster. Monster." Instead, I dipped my head into my notebook and dutifully quoted his defense attorney. It was an accident, he said. He didn't mean to kill that little boy. He loved that little boy. And the irony? Closing arguments in the case fell on the Friday before Father's Day.

He was convicted, I'm happy to report. He got 15 years in prison. I wanted to write that it wasn't enough, as I typed up my report on sentencing day. It stings today, as I think he's probably out on parole by now. Living his life.

The good news in this case is that the boy in Florida, in hospital care since Friday, is recovering. He's gained 3 pounds, local authorities said, and the bed sores covering his torso are being treated. The mom, who faces 15 years in prison if she's convicted on multiple child neglect charges, has told police the boy went unfed because she needed more help. True, she did have her son when she was 15. Just a minor herself. Still, I imagined reporters on this case rolling their eyes as they typed up her comments, struggling to hold on to their own objectivity while the investigation unfolds. I'm just glad this time, I won't be among their ranks, trying to make sense of a senseless story.

I once wrote an entire book about two teenage boys who conspired to kill their mom, decapitating her with a kitchen knife. As I investigated the case, I discovered the boys had suffered extreme mental abuse all of their lives at the hands of their mother. The abuse didn't excuse the brutal slaying, but slowly, I understood where all that anger came from. I interviewed one of the young men in jail and he told me what it was like to be young, defenseless, and abused.

"Every day I died a little inside," he told me. "To me, what we did, was just an act of self defense."

1 comment:

Levi said...

She starved him because she needed help? What a scum bag, she is making herself out to be the victim! What she did was disgusting and horrible, she didn't and doesn't give a damn about that poor child. She fed and clothed and took care of herself, but not him. She is a self obsessed, worthless, piece of garbage, who should have never been allowed to have a child in the 1st place.

It disturbs me that in this country, you need a license to go out and catch a fish, but any idiot can have a child.