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Jewish World Review March 25, 2002 / 12 Nisan, 5762

Bob Greene

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The adults' punishment
will someday end | `When I came home that night," said Dr. Andrew Morgan, "I said to my wife, `I thought I had seen everything in my field. But I have just seen the most heartbreaking thing of my lifetime.'"

Dr. Morgan, 52, a specialist in pediatric medicine, had been called in to care for the 7-year-old girl in LaSalle County, Ill., about whom we reported Sunday.

"I cannot understand how one human being can do something like that to another human being," Dr. Morgan said. "Let alone to a child."

The little girl -- bright, healthy, well-liked -- was punished by her stepfather, Eric French, 31, with a beating so brutal that, as Dr. Morgan testified in court, it left her in an infantile state. Dr. Morgan told Judge James Lanuti in LaSalle County that the child likely will never have control of her bowels or bladder, will never be able to walk unassisted, will never be able to use her right arm or to speak clearly; he testified that Eric French beat the girl back to the level of a 2-year-old.

French is serving a 29-year term in an Illinois state prison; his wife, April French, 25, is serving a 5-year term for her role in failing to protect her daughter. (After the child was rushed to the hospital, April French lied in an effort to protect Eric French, saying that another person was responsible for the beating.)

Judge Lanuti said in court: "It's difficult to be harmed more than this child and not be dead."

But the child is not dead -- she likely faces a lifetime of agony and indignity. On Friday we pointed out the guarantee that all Americans are given in the Bill of Rights to the Constitution -- the guarantee against "cruel and unusual punishments." Often, that guarantee seems to apply only to adults -- no court can punish them in cruel and unusual ways, but the children who trust them can suffer punishments almost unbearable to hear about, much less endure.

Thus, Eric and April French, while in prison, will be fed properly, will be clothed, will be kept warm in winter, will be allowed to exercise and listen to music and watch TV and have friends. Their punishment will be civilized.

As for the child. . . .

Joe Hettel, the state's attorney of LaSalle County, told us: "Someday, she is going to ask herself: `How did I get here? Why did someone do this to me?' That's going to be the hard part: growing up and realizing that the person who was supposed to be your father beat you to the point that you are not ever going to be getting out of your wheelchair."

The bruises and whip marks that covered the child from head to toe, the surgical removal of the cap of her skull to relieve the pressure on her brain from the beating Eric French administered . . . those are indelible in Hettel's mind. But there are other things:

"The bruising of her heart, the bruising of her lungs," Hettel told us. "Those are the kinds of things that happen in the worst car accidents -- that is the kind of force upon the ribs that causes such bruising. And it was done to her by her stepfather."

The child's punishment continues. With Eric and April French serving their prison terms, the child's biological father came to court. He signed away his parental rights to her.

The biological father told a reporter outside the courtroom:

"I had to think about this, but I can't financially handle [the child]. She costs $25,000 to $30,000 a month in medical costs. This has been going on for several months, and I'm not getting anywhere. I'm tired."

So she is all but alone in the world. "What was done to her was permanent and devastating," Dr. Morgan told us. "Punishment? This was a very cruel person intending to inflict harm upon someone smaller and weaker. Someone who is completely defenseless to do anything about it."

This would be terrible enough if it were an isolated tragedy. But the entire point of reporting these stories is that such punishment is not isolated. Even as we report on this case, there is another one unfolding in a small Ohio town by the name of Minerva -- another case of punishment of a child so cruel that it is almost unfathomable. We will report on that tomorrow.

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

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