By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
EVERETT — The state Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of a south Everett woman accused of nearly starving a 4-year-old boy to death in 2007.
Marilea Mitchell and her live-in boyfriend, Danny Abegg, were found guilty in Snohomish County Superior Court of criminal mistreatment after sheriff’s deputies found Abegg’s son in critical condition from being malnourished.
The boy weighed 26 pounds — nearly half the weight of a healthy child his age. He couldn’t sit up or stand on his own. His hair was falling out and there was virtually no fat on his body.
Once rescued, the boy told doctors that if his dad and Mitchell caught him eating food, he was forced to sleep in the bathtub. He hoarded food at the hospital and tried to hide it from the nurses and doctors.
The boy was later awarded $6 million after his lawyer alleged that state social workers failed to adequately supervise the boy’s placement with his father.
Abegg and Mitchell were accused of withholding food from the boy as a form of punishment. A judge found them guilty during a bench trial. They were sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison.
Mitchell fought her conviction and argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict her.
Prosecutors alleged that Mitchell had taken on the responsibility of providing a dependant person the basic necessities of life. When she withheld food from the boy she deprived him of a basic necessity, prosecutors said.
The child was in Mitchell’s care during the day when Abegg was at work.
Mitchell argued that the boy didn’t fit the definition of a dependant person under the statute and therefore there was no evidence that she committed the crime.
The law defines a dependant person as someone with a physical or mental disability or because of their advanced age relies on another person for basic needs such as food, water and health care.
Prosecutors argued that while the victim was a child, that didn’t exclude him from fitting in the category of a dependant person. The Supreme Court agreed.
“To omit disabled children, likely the most vulnerable group of victims, from this protection would seem a far cry from the legislature’s intent in passing the criminal mistreatment statute. It would border on the absurd,” Justice Richard B. Sanders wrote in the decision.
The justices found that there was evidence presented at trial that proved that the boy was disabled after being severely malnourished. He was unable to stand and suffered from a failing digestive system.
In the decision, Sanders wrote that the bench declined to answer the question of whether or not some children, based on their age, are innately dependant.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.