Franklin Park couple pleads no contest to abusing adopted children
A Franklin Park couple stood in silence before a judge on Monday as their lawyers pleaded no contest to charges that the husband and wife starved and physically abused their two adopted children.
Douglas Barbour, 34, a former state prosecutor, and Kristen Barbour, 32, entered their pleas for endangering the welfare of their children, a daughter who was 13 months old and a boy who was 5 years old when adopted from Ethiopia in March 2012. The Barbours will be sentenced Sept. 15.
“They tried to do something wonderful to provide a better life for these kids,” said Kristen Barbour’s lawyer, Robert Stewart. “This wasn’t an act of malice.”
Douglas Barbour, who resigned as a deputy state attorney general on Jan. 30, 2013, will receive probation for two misdemeanor counts of child endangerment. His wife could be sent to jail for two felony counts of the same charge, though her lawyer said he will seek probation.
Legal experts said a no-contest plea, unlike pleading guilty, can’t be used to establish guilt in a potential civil lawsuit. It means the defendants don’t admit or dispute the charges against them.
“It appears this simply became a situation that was overwhelming,” said Charles Porter, Douglas Barbour’s lawyer.
Allegheny County Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning said he believed the couple acted without malice.
“It appears to me this started out as a significant act of charity, gone awry,” he said.
But District Attorney Jennifer DiGiovanni, who said the Barbours voluntarily relinquished parental rights to their adopted children, offered a different perspective.
Despite being advised by a pediatrician to give their son “unfettered access to tolerable healthy foods” so he would reach and maintain a healthy weight, the Barbours refused, saying “that’s not the way we do it” and “that’s not the rules in our house,” DiGiovanni said.
The Barbours told a post-adoption social worker that their son would overeat, hoard candy and pretzels, and refused to “follow the rules.”
In August, while she was registering him for half-day kindergarten, Kristen Barbour told administrators that her son “will always say he is hungry and ask for food. Please do not give food.”
Even though he arrived in the United States weighing 46 pounds, the boy weighed 38 pounds by Sept. 14, 2012, when Douglas Barbour took him to a Children’s Express Care medical center in Franklin Park with a temperature of 93.6 degrees and a skin irritation from lying in his urine. Barbour told the doctor that the boy’s behavior was “attention-seeking and deceitful.” The doctor advised him to take the boy to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville.
That night, while Barbour was with his son at Children’s, Kristen Barbour called 911 about their daughter, who apparently had a seizure and was unresponsive at their home. The girl was taken by ambulance to Children’s and diagnosed with a severe brain injury. Doctors found several healing fractures to the girl’s femur and toe, which they concluded occurred while she was in the Barbours’ care.
DiGiovanni said the only medical treatment the boy received at Children’s was food, and he again weighed 46 pounds on Oct. 2 when he was interviewed at A Child’s Place at Mercy, a center that advocates against child abuse.
According to a police affidavit, the boy told child advocates that when he was bad, which he described as going to the bathroom in his pants, he was forced to eat his meals in the bathroom. He said he was forced to stand in the bathroom in the dark. He said it was “scary.”
The adopted children are in foster care. In April, the Barbours regained custody of two biological children. They sold their Franklin Park home and moved in with his parents in Mercer County.
Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or [email protected].