Abusive Franklin Park mom's sentence tweaked to allow home visits
October 10, 2014 11:09 PM
Douglas, left, and Kristen Barbour leave the Allegheny County Courthouse on Sept. 15.
By Paula Reed Ward / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Every morning when Kristen Barbour wakes up at the Mercer County Jail, she will be required to go through a strip search before being permitted to change into her street clothes. From there, she will head to her in-laws’ home, where she has been living, to care for her two biological children as a form of work release.
Warden Erna Craig, who agreed to the setup at the request of Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, estimated the woman will be allowed out about eight hours per day — 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. — for five days per week.
“We’ll have a pretty tight rein on this,” Ms. Craig said. “Everything is pretty well-regimented.”
Barbour, who was convicted of two felony counts of endangering the welfare of two Ethiopian children she and her husband adopted, asked Judge Manning to modify her original sentence of six to 12 months in alternative housing.
Her attorney, Robert E. Stewart, argued that if his client were forced to live elsewhere — while her husband works at his parents’ business — no one would be available to care for their biological children.
On Friday, Judge Manning changed his sentence to require that Barbour serve her punishment at the Mercer County Jail but with work release.
“I consider stay-at-home mothers raising children to be a full-time job — without pay,” Judge Manning said. “If he’s not working, she's in the jail.”
Deputy District Attorney Jennifer DiGiovanni objected to Barbour’s sentence being changed.
“There's something fundamentally wrong with that,” she said. “For her to stay at home and serve her sentence, it doesn't impact her life.”
Ms. Craig said that Barbour will not be permitted to be out and about with the children — no movies or sporting events.
“She can entertain them at home,” the warden said. “I don’t think she needs to be so visible in the public at this time. I don’t want that for our facility, either.” Outings such as doctor’s visits or education-related meetings would have to be approved in advance, and Barbour will be subjected to random drug testing as well as on-site checks at any time, Ms. Craig said.
In addition, she will be required to pay either $10 per day or 20 percent of her husband’s paycheck — whatever amount is greater, the warden continued.
Mr. Stewart said that Douglas Barbour works at his family’s nursery farm.
Mr. Barbour, a former lawyer with the state attorney general’s office, was sentenced to five years of probation after pleading no contest to two misdemeanor counts of child endangerment.
Following the hearing, Mr. Stewart said he found the level of media coverage the Barbours’ case has received “absurd.”
“I have seen so much worse abuse that goes unrecognized.”
The Barbours adopted the two children, a boy, age 6, and a girl, age 1, in March 2012.
Investigators said that over a period of months, they forced the boy to eat meals in the bathroom, withheld food from him, and allowed him to sit in urine-soaked bedding — so much so it caused his skin to slough off.
He was hospitalized in September 2012 and found to be malnourished. The girl, who suffered a brain injury, was left with a broken leg and toe that went untreated for weeks.
The children have since been adopted by their foster family from Highland Park and are thriving.
When Kristen Barbour returns to the jail at the end of the day, she will be strip-searched again. Then she will put on her bright orange uniform, eat dinner and retire to her two-person cell.
“Any violations of her working conditions, we’ll end up pulling her off the program,” Ms. Craig said.