Terry and Victoria Smith are currently on trial in St. Charles County, Missouri, after being accused of keeping their autistic son in a cage while collecting nearly $35,000 a year in benefits connected to the child's care. Prosecution claims that the welfare money the Smiths received motivated the couple to lock their son in a cage, which they kept in the basement.
One juror wiped away tears after the prosecution presented pictures of the contraption the couple locked the child in.
A nurse, paid for by the state, took the stand first. She had been hired to help Terry and Victoria Smith care for their son, who is non-verbal. She testified that the child often smelled of urine and feces.
"His body odor was so unbearable because it was embedded in his skin."She said the Missouri couple treated their disabled son like an animal, even feeding him like one. She testified to an incident where she saw Terry Smith, the boy's father, feed his son a hot dog by "placing it on the floor beside a dog bowl and feeding him" in that manner.
The nurse finally reported the Missouri couple when she saw the sleeping arrangements the 6-year-old boy was forced into using. In the basement of Terry and Victoria Smith's house, a metal crib had been turned into a makeshift cage. Plywood was placed on top to keep the boy confined inside, and the three-foot by six-foot contraption was held together by zip ties and straps. The mattress was soaked in urine and covered with feces.
When O'Fallon, Missouri, police went to investigate the nurse's claim, the officer found the child naked, sitting on bedding encrusted with filth.
"I was in amazement of what I was looking at," Lt. Jeff Lange said, in reference to the horrific scene he encountered at the Smith's home. At two different times during the initial investigation, Lange had to remove himself from the residence and go outside in order to regain his composure. When the paramedics arrived, Lange asked if any of them had children.
"When they said 'yes,' " he said, "I said, 'Prepare yourselves. It's appalling.' "
In the opening statements of the trial for Terry and Victoria Smith, the prosecuting attorney says the Smiths, who have five other children in addition to their autistic son, are "adept and cunning at amassing welfare," explaining that the couple is unemployed and saw their son only as a source of income. The child, the attorney said, was "the only person in that house bringing in a paycheck, almost $700 a month."
The defense, in return, says the nurse turned the Smiths in because they had just fired her, which the nurse denies. The defense also claims that what the nurse and police found in the basement was not a cage but a "medical bed" given to them by the Department of Mental Health. The agency, Smiths said, were working on getting them a new one. However, all officials connected with the agency deny that claim.
If convicted, the Smiths each face a maximum of seven years in prison.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. To learn the possible signs and symptoms of child abuse, click here.
[Images via St. Louis Today]