Mother, grandparents face attempted murder charges in starved boy’s case
MERCER — A packed Mercer County courtroom erupted in applause when a district judge jailed a mother and grandparents to await trial on charges they tried to starve an 8-year-old boy to death.
At a hearing on Thursday, the boy’s mother, Mary Rader, 28, and maternal grandparents Deana Beighley, 48, and Dennis Beighley, 59, all of Greenville, showed little emotion as prosecutors displayed a picture of the emaciated boy discovered by a neighbor in June outside the home the family shared on the town’s west side.
“This is the first time I’ve seen these reports, and this is definitely the first time I’ve seen these photographs,” District Judge Brian Arthur said. “I’m committing (all of) you to the Mercer County jail on $100,000 straight bond.”
District Attorney Robert Kochems added two counts each of conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder to the litany of charges the trio face. When investigators found the then 7-year-old boy, he was so starved, he was scavenging for insects and weighed less than 25 pounds, they said.
“Our theory is that there was a concerted agreement that, ‘We’re going to let this happen.’ The withholding of food is a premeditated killing,” Kochems said. “To the boy, it was, ‘This is how we feed you.’ He doesn’t know they’re trying to kill him. We do.”
Attorneys for the defendants acknowledged the boy’s poor condition but disputed the family was trying to kill him.
“It’s obviously a tragedy what happened to this boy. It’s not contestable what his condition was. The question is, who, if anyone, is criminally responsible?” asked Jack Cline, Rader’s attorney. “Whether it’s something that just got away from them or whether there was a dominant person in the family … we may find out later.”
Deana Beighley’s attorney, Neil Rothschild, made a similar argument.
“Saying there was medical neglect and saying they were trying to kill him are two very different things,” Rothschild said. “There is no evidence of any intent to kill.”
Attorney Matthew Parson, who represented Dennis Beighley, the boy’s step-grandfather, said his client wasn’t involved in any conspiracy and because he isn’t biologically related, couldn’t get involved in the boy’s health affairs.
Other children ages 11, 9 and 4 also lived in the house, but investigators said the boy was the only one starved. All are in foster care. Kochems said the boy put on at least 20 pounds in the past two months. Doctors said he was about a month from going into cardiac arrest from starvation.
Rader, who is pregnant, and her parents, ran from reporters before the hearing outside the courthouse. They didn’t answer questions when they finally walked inside.
Kochems showed a series of pictures to the judge, although the packed gallery only got a glimpse of one — a shot of a smiling little boy with light brown hair, sunken eyes and protruding cheekbones. Dozens in the crowd gasped.
“It’s sad. It’s very sad. I never thought it would be my family,” said Cindy Shuffstall, 53, of Grove City, Deana Beighley’s cousin, who watched the hearing.
Kochems read a doctor’s report that said the boy’s weight fluctuated between 33 and 40 pounds in recent years. He hadn’t been seen by a doctor in more than a year.
In the report, the doctor noted the boy looked like “a Holocaust victim.” He had sunken eyes and his ribs and spine were showing. The bones stuck out so much, they were causing skin problems, the doctor noted.
His mother pulled him out of the Greenville Area School District after the 2012-13 school year and enrolled him in a cyberschool.
According to a new police affidavit filed on Thursday, the boy’s school contacted county Children and Youth Services in 2012 because he was stealing food from garbage and hoarding food in his shoes and socks. It’s unclear whether CYS took action. When cafeteria workers fed the boy breakfast, Rader allegedly contacted the school more than once and advised them not to feed him.
“She sent a note to the school telling them that he should not be allowed to eat breakfast because he eats a large breakfast at home and that he will overeat if he is fed again,” according to the affidavit.
CYS caseworker Kendra Manning said she went to the boy’s home on June 6 because a neighbor reported seeing a “walking skeleton” outside the home. Manning took the boy to the emergency room at UPMC Horizon Hospital in Greenville. She said there was ample food in the home.
“(Deana Beighley) said, ‘I knew I should have brought him (to the hospital) last night,’ ” Manning said. “I made the statement, ‘Last night? You should have brought him months ago.’ ”
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or [email protected].