Friday, August 17, 2007

Child "Bad," Punished

'Every bone in his body' visible
Pair to stand trial in 7-year-old boy's starvation death
Sue Lindsay And Jean Torkelson, Rocky Mountain News
August 17, 2007

Seven-year-old Chandler Grafner was so emaciated when he died in May he looked like a "concentration camp prisoner," a Denver detective testified Thursday.

"He was so thin, you could see every bone in his body," said Detective Larry Moore II. "His eyes and cheeks were sunken. His hair was falling out."

Moore testified at a preliminary hearing in Denver County Court in which Jon Phillips, 26, and Sarah Berry, 21, were bound over to stand trial on charges of murder and child abuse for starving the boy, who died May 6.

Chandler's 5-year-old half- brother, who is Phillips' biological son, told police that "his brother was an angel and he was in heaven," Moore said.

The younger boy told police that when Chandler "was bad," he was kept in a closet, where he was forced to eat, sleep and go to the bathroom. The boy also said in an affidavit that Chandler would beg for food but was denied it.

Moore said Chandler was kept in a small linen closet, which smelled like urine and had feces smeared on the walls.

Police found a piece of urine- soaked carpet that apparently had been cut from the closet floor and dumped in the trash, Moore said.

Photographs of the emaciated child and the testimony of his 5-year-old half-brother were among the compelling pieces of evidence indicating probable cause of first-degree murder, Judge Andrew Armatas said.

Armatas said years ago he might have doubted a 5-year- old's credibility, "but when I see 3-year-olds using computers today," it's safe to conclude they're bright enough to be witnesses.

Phillips and Berry told authorities that Chandler had become ill a week and a half before he died, but doctors said he died a long, slow death of starvation and dehydration.

Chandler weighed 34 pounds when he died. The normal weight for a boy his age is 50 pounds.

Chandler was withdrawn from school for home schooling a month before he died and no one had seen him outside the apartment since Easter, Moore said.

Defense attorneys contended that both boys were thin and small for their age. They tried to show that Chandler's debilitated state could have been due to any number of factors, among them his premature birth and the fact that his biological mother used drugs and methamphetamine.

Phillips got custody of both boys in January.

Defense attorneys noted that Berry, who is Phillips' common-law wife, was an inexperienced parent.

But prosecutor Verna Carpenter said that "no matter how young, how naive you are," a person knows a child needs to be fed and not to lock a child in a closet.

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