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Jewish World Review Feb. 13, 2002 / 29 Shevat, 5762

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

The price for torturing a child? 90 days -- THIS is disgusting. This one makes you feel like giving up.

There has been a verdict and sentencing in the case of Sean Von Eric Marshall -- one of the torturers of children in Nebraska about whom we reported late last summer, before the attacks on America Sept. 11 pushed everything else out of the news.

Marshall, 41, was arrested in Lincoln County, Neb., after sheriff's deputies said he tortured his 7-year-old son. Marshall, according to sheriff's investigator Chuck Nichols, had punished the child by leaving him in a van in a Wal-Mart parking lot while the rest of the family went inside to shop. Afraid and upset to be alone, the boy got out and started walking, trying to find his grandmother's house.

The child walked three miles to find her. But Sean Von Eric Marshall soon retrieved him -- and, according to Lincoln County prosecutors, tied a rope to the boy and the other end to himself. He allegedly took the boy to a local funeral home, where a body was on display in an open casket, and forced the terrified child to touch the corpse.

Then, according to prosecutors, Marshall dragged his son by the rope down a gravel road to a grave in a cemetery, where the child's cousin was buried. "[Marshall] ran down the road, dragging the boy along the gravel behind him," investigator Nichols said.

The 7-year-old then was taken back to his home in Hershey, Neb., where he was tied by his hands and feet to a chair, prosecutors said. This allegedly went on for weeks, with the boy being untied only to go to the bathroom. When the child was able to chew through his ropes, Nichols said, his mouth was sealed shut with tape so he could not try to escape again.

Nichols told us: "He was the one child in the family singled out to be treated like this. There are four children -- and even before this new punishment began, the rule was that the rest of the family got to sit and eat their meals at the table, but this little boy always had to stand and eat his meals."

It turned out that Marshall had been arrested for abusing the boy before, when the child was 4. He also allegedly repeatedly whipped the boy with a 2-by-4 board.

After Marshall was apprehended, Nichols said, the child "broke down. He's a very nice 7-year-old boy, and he did his best to keep his composure when we first started talking with him. But when he got to some of the details . . . he just broke down."

So what happened?

One judge in Lincoln County set bond at $100,000. But another judge soon cut it in half -- and a relative bailed Marshall out.

He was charged with felony child abuse, which could have put him in prison for five years. But he was allowed to plead down to a misdemeanor. Why?

According to Nichols, "Sean Von Eric Marshall would have sat in that courtroom and stared the boy down on the witness stand, and the boy would have crumbled. He was so scared of his father. His dad would have given him this look that said: You say one more word against me, and you'll eventually pay for it."

But was there not a way to spare the boy from having to be in the courtroom at the same time as the man who tortured him?

"Marshall's right to face his accuser outweighed the victim's right not to be intimidated," Nichols said.

Lincoln County prosecutor Jeff Meyer told us: "Nebraska does not allow testimony in chambers, even when a child is involved." What about videotaping the child's testimony, as is done in some states? "Our judges won't allow it," Meyer said.

In addition, the child had been placed in foster care with a close relative of Marshall, and investigators believe the child was being pressured not to incriminate his father. "The only witness to cooperate with us was the child," Meyer said.

So a plea was struck. Marshall's parental rights to the boy were terminated. Because he would be caring for at least one other child, Marshall was ordered to attend counseling and parenting classes.

And last week Lincoln County District Judge Donald E. Rowlands sentenced Marshall to 90 days in jail. Ninety days, for the torture of that boy.

"This should be a signal to you and the community that child abuse is not acceptable," Judge Rowlands said in court.

Some signal.

As for the child?

Those familiar with the case say that he has now been sent to a foster home in the northern part of Nebraska, away from everyone he knows. As to how he is getting along -- after having told the truth, and then having the case turn out this way -- state law in Nebraska forbids the Department of Health and Human Services from discussing that.

The reason, according to state officials, is for the protection of children.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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