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Jewish World Review March 22, 2002 / 9 Nisan, 5762

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

Cruel, unusual punishment toward children | She was a bright, pretty, outgoing 7-year-old girl who was growing up last year in LaSalle, Ill., a town of about 10,000 residents in the north-central part of the state.

"Just a nice little girl, a child people liked to be around," said Joe Hettel, the LaSalle County state's attorney.

But someone in her household -- Eric French, 31, her stepfather -- took constant objection to the way she behaved.

"Anything she did seemed to displease him, from what we can find out," Hettel said. "One time, at a campground, he forced her to eat toothpaste in public as punishment for something, and people saw her crying as he forced her to do it. In the places where they lived, he would draw marks on the wall and force her to stand and stare at the marks for long periods of time."

What has happened to her now, though -- what has left her in the condition she is in. . . .

Whatever Eric French decided the girl had done to earn his disapproval this last time displeased him mightily.

"The first time I saw her, she was in the pediatric intensive care unit," Hettel told us. "Every kind of machine that can be hooked up to a person was hooked up to her. She was unconscious and just covered with bruises. She looked as if she had been dragged around and beaten -- there were bruises and whip marks from her toes to her head.

"The beating was not all done with a human hand. There were instruments used -- there was damage to her in a shape that looked like it might have come from the end of a laundry iron. . . ."

Many times, when we report stories such as this one, the child has died. In this case, she is alive.

"The surgeons had to remove the cap of her skull to relieve the pressure on her brain from the beating that Eric French gave her," Hettel said. "The top of her skull has not been reattached yet, or at least it had not the last time I checked. She has to wear a helmet all the time."

The United States Constitution -- in the 8th Amendment to the Bill of Rights -- guarantees this to all Americans: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

Nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. Adults in this country can live confident that no governmental body or court will inflict such punishments upon them. But children -- who count on the adults in the homes where they live to care for them and protect them. . . .

Dr. Andrew Morgan -- a specialist in pediatrics at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, one of the doctors who treated the little girl in LaSalle County -- said this in testimony before Judge James Lanuti:

The child, Dr. Morgan testified, will most likely never in her life have control over her bowels or her bladder, never be able to walk without support, never be able to use her right arm or speak clearly.

Dr. Morgan testified: "She's completely dependent, worse than a 2-year-old child. She suffered severe, permanent brain damage." He said that she was trying to learn to use a device similar to an infant's walker, but could not; he said that she will always be in a wheelchair. She had been beaten into infantilism, he said: "Her current condition is permanent."

There is a pattern that can be seen in so many of the stories we have covered -- a pattern that is at last becoming evident. It is the reason for the citation in today's column of the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment -- the prohibition that is routinely denied to some children.

The late Lattie McGee, 4, in Chicago, who was punished by his mother's boyfriend by being hanged upside down at night from a clothing rod in a closet and made to sleep that way, with his mouth taped shut and potato peelings taped over his eyes; the 7-year-old daughter of Michael and Angeline Rogers in Brillion, Wis., who was punished by being made to sleep locked in a small, filthy dog cage in the family's dark basement; the late P.J. Bourgeois, 3, in Franklin County, Ohio, who was punished by being bitten and beaten until his brain bled by his father and his father's girlfriend, dragged around by his ears and then hogtied until he choked to death at night on his own blood; the 6-year-old son of Joseph Grad in Marshall County, Ind., who was punished by being locked and chained in a tiny broom closet for 24 hours at a time, and urinated upon by his father when the child could not control his bladder; the 8-year-old stepson of Jamie G. Henry in Hall County, Neb., who was punished by allegedly being shocked with an electrified prod meant to force 2,000-pound bulls into obedience. . . .

The right not to fear cruel and unusual punishment -- the basic American right. We will report more Monday about the girl in LaSalle County.

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

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