Franklin Park couple plead no contest to endangering kids
June 23, 2014 11:36 PM
Kristen and Douglas Barbour walk along Ross Street after leaving the Allegheny County Courthouse. The Barbours are charged with abusing their two adopted children from Ethiopia and pleaded no contest.
By Paula Reed Ward / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In 2012, a physician, social service workers and therapists encouraged Kristen and Douglas Barbour to be more flexible with the two Ethiopian children they recently had adopted.
They suggested that the couple allow the children “unfettered access” to healthy foods, be more willing to bend their routines to accommodate the year-old girl and 5-year-old boy and even urged medical care when they noticed problems with the children.
But according to deputy district attorney Jennifer DiGiovanni, the former Franklin Park couple ignored the suggestions.
Instead, they responded, “That’s not how we do it,” and, “That’s not the rules in our house."
On Monday, Douglas and Kristen Barbour pleaded no contest to two counts each of endangering the welfare of children. Mr. Barbour pleaded to misdemeanor counts; Mrs. Barbour’s plea was to felonies.
As part of the plea agreement, Mr. Barbour, 34, is to be sentenced to a term of probation that Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning set. Judge Manning released Mrs. Barbour, 32, under electronic monitoring. She could face three to 12 month’s county or state incarceration, although her attorney, Robert E. Stewart, said on Monday he also would ask for probation for her.
Judge Manning set sentencing for Sept. 15.
“This started out as a significant act of charity gone awry,” he said. “I see no evidence of malice here.”
Both defense attorneys agreed.
“They were trying to do something wonderful, to provide a better life for these kids,” Mr. Stewart said.
“It appears this simply became a situation that was overwhelming,” said Charles Porter, who represents Mr. Barbour. “The Barbours probably should have mellowed in their approach. They are good people.”
Mrs. Barbour was a stay-at-home mom. Her husband was a state deputy attorney general. He since has lost his job and is not currently working as a lawyer.
The couple, originally charged in October 2012, have since agreed to terminate their parental rights, and the children remain in foster care. New families might soon adopt them.
The Barbours adopted the boy and girl in March 2012. At the time, the couple already had two young biological children. There were never allegations of abuse to the two natural children, and they remain in their parents’ custody.
According to a summary Ms. DiGiovanni provided to the court, trouble began with the 5-year-old boy almost immediately.
At his first doctor’s visit when he arrived in the United States, he weighed 46 pounds. He had bad teeth, which were corrected with oral surgery, but he was not malnourished on arrival.
During the next several months, the boy lost 10 pounds.
The prosecution said that in August of that year, he began half-day kindergarten, and Mrs. Barbour noted on her son’s registration paperwork, “[He] will always say that he is hungry and ask for food. Please do not give food.”
Ms. DiGiovanni noted that his teachers “reported that his behavior was excellent.”
According to the prosecution, the Barbours expressed concern not only about both children eating too much, but they also said that the boy was urinating too much and having accidents. He also was having repeated skin problems from spending hours at a time in his urine-soaked sheets, Ms. DiGiovanni said.
When the younger girl arrived in the United States, she was unable to walk. By Aug. 23, with physical and occupational therapy, she was able to take 25 unassisted steps. However, a week later, a therapist noticed the girl was unable to bear weight on her right leg and urged the Barbours to take her to a doctor.
Mr. Stewart said the couple made a doctor’s appointment in October.
Ms. DiGiovanni also noted in her summary of the case that Bethany Christian Services, which facilitated the adoptions, was doing follow-up care for the family. Mrs. Barbour described to them that the boy was “rude, defiant and very difficult,” the prosecutor said. In August and early September, two of the social workers suggested he begin trauma therapy, and they also noted his dramatic weight loss and that a doctor should examine him.
It wasn’t until Sept. 14 that Mr. Barbour took the boy to an urgent care center, where he registered a temperature of only 93.6 degrees, Ms. DiGiovanni said. Mr. Barbour told a doctor there the boy had been having months of urinary accidents and that he “would often lie in his urine on the bathroom tile floor. Mr. Barbour stated his opinion that the behavior was ‘attention-seeking and deceitful.’ ”
The doctor told Mr. Barbour to take the boy immediately to Children's Hospital.
A short time later, Mrs. Barbour called 911 from the couple’s home, saying that the little girl had a seizure and was unresponsive.
She was also taken to Children’s, where she was diagnosed with retinal hemorrhaging and a brain injury.
Ms. DiGiovanni said doctors also found several healing fractures, including in the girl’s femur and toe, although testing revealed no bone density problems or underlying medical cause.
While at the hospital, the boy did not need any medicinal treatment, the prosecutor said. Instead, he was determined to be malnourished because of inadequate caloric intake.
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