MERCER, Pa. — A packed Mercer County courtroom burst into applause Thursday after a judge ordered three adults accused of starving and abusing an 8-year-old boy to stand trial and set a bond that probably will keep them jailed until then.
Mary Rader, 28, the boy’s mother; Deana Beighley, 48, his grandmother; and Mrs. Beighley’s husband, Dennis Beighley, 58, of Greenville, were held for court on all charges, including attempted first- and third-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first- and third-degree murder.
The three had previously been charged with aggravated assault, aggravated assault of a child under 13, false imprisonment, unlawful restraint, endangering the welfare of a child and conspiracy.
Mercer County District Attorney Robert Kochems said the intentional starvation of Antonio Rader was the focus of the new charges of attempted murder and conspiracy, which were filed Thursday.
“It’s an agreement — doesn’t have to be in writing — with the intent to end in death,” he told reporters after the hearing. “What else do you do if you starve someone? I think that’s common sense.”
An addition to the criminal complaint detailed the new charges. At the end of the 2012 school year, officials at Hempfield Elementary School near Greenville contacted Mercer County Children and Youth Services to report that Antonio “was always hungry” and ”was stealing food out of the garbage and hoarding food in his socks and shoes,” police wrote.
Ms. Rader contacted the school multiple times asking officials not to feed Antonio breakfast, the complaint said, including in October 2012, when she sent a note saying “he should not be allowed to eat breakfast because he eats a large breakfast at home and that he will over eat if he is fed again.” The boy attended a cyber charter school starting in the 2013 school year — and lost 14 pounds after he left the Hempfield school.
District Judge Brian Arthur set each defendant’s bail at $100,000 straight cash and ordered them to the Mercer County Jail, prompting the courtroom applause.
Jack Kline, attorney for Ms. Rader, called what happened to the boy “tragic” and said it’s “not contestable that he was in dire condition when he was taken by the police.”
“The question is,” he said, “who, if anyone, is criminally responsible for it?”
Mr. Kline said his investigation into the incident is ongoing.
“Whether it’s something that got away from them, or a dominant person in the family is trying to cover it up, that’s something that we may find out at a later” time.
Mercer County Detective John Piatek has said he believed Antonio’s maternal grandmother was the ringleader of an effort to torture the boy.
Matthew Parson, who is representing Mr. Beighley, said his client, as the child's step-grandfather who is not biologically related, couldn't have taken the child from his mother or intervened in his medical care.
Prosecutors called two witnesses during the preliminary hearing Thursday, including Kendra Manning, a Mercer County CYS employee who went to the North Second Street home on June 6 after a neighbor called authorities to report a “living skeleton” outside the Rader home.
In her testimony, Ms. Manning said she went in the house and saw Ms. Rader and a “very emaciated child,” who she later learned was Antonio, walk down the steps to meet her.
Antonio’s mother claimed her son had a growth hormone deficiency — a claim Mr. Kochems disputed.
“The proof is in the calories, according to the doctor. As long as you give him enough calories, he’s gained weight,” Mr. Kochems told reporters after the hearing. “There are some abnormalities over time, but none of them are particularly significant.”
Police said Antonio weighed 24 pounds at the time CYS workers came to his home on June 6. Mr. Kochems said Antonio is now in a foster home, where he is doing well and has gained at least 20 pounds.
Ms. Manning testified that she next took the boy and his mother to UPMC Greenville. He later was taken to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
While Antonio was being seen at UPMC Greenville, Ms. Manning said, he didn’t have much energy but ate two popsicles. She asked if he was feeling well, and he said that he wasn’t and that his stomach hurt.
On cross-examination, Ms. Manning testified that shortly after she arrived, she spoke with Antonio in private on the front porch, where he told her he felt safe and that people in the house were nice to him. At some point, he told authorities that he eats three meals a day — a detail his sister confirmed, Ms. Manning said.
Ms. Manning said she returned later that day with Greenville police to inspect the North Second Street house. She testified that Ms. Beighley was upset and said, “Don’t you think if I was starving one, I would have starved them all?”
Inside the home Ms. Manning said she found “ample” amounts of food in the cupboards. She described the house as clean, with hot running water and “nothing out of the ordinary.”
His three siblings, ages 11, 9 and 4, are under court-ordered care.
Max Radwin: email@example.com or 412-263-1280. Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1944. First Published August 7, 2014 12:00 AM