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Jewish World Review May 13, 2002 / 2 Sivan, 5762

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

The cruel and unusual
death of Charles Green | It is not clear exactly what Charles Green, 6, did to make his caregivers decide that he required punishment.

The boy cannot tell anyone, because, according to police and prosecutors in Des Moines, Iowa, he was punished to death.

He never regained consciousness after his final punishment -- so he cannot say what happened in the moments just before that punishment began.

We have been reporting this year on the cruel and unusual punishment of children -- punishment that, if it were to be administered by the government, would be considered in violation of the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution -- in the 8th Amendment to the Bill of Rights -- guarantees to all American citizens:

"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

No court can administer such punishments. But -- as we have been reporting -- children who live in homes where the adults decide to punish them in cruel and unusual ways have no recourse. For minor transgressions, these children receive the kinds of punishments even convicted murderers are protected from. In Charles Green's case, he reportedly was given the death penalty -- with no trial, no appeal. The mercy of the court was up to his judge and jury -- and according to Polk County, Iowa, prosecutor John Sarcone, that judge and jury consisted of one person:

Shalonda Denise Green, 27, the child's stepmother. According to investigators, it wasn't much of a match: Charles Green was 6 years old and slight of build; his stepmother weighed 280 pounds.

Police say she kicked the boy to death.

"There were multiple acts done to [the child]," Sarcone told us. Shalonda Green is charged with first-degree murder.

By all accounts, Charles Green was safe before being sent to Iowa to live with his biological father -- Tumma Green -- and the stepmother last fall. Charles had been living in foster care in Illinois for most of his life. But Tumma and Shalonda Green convinced social workers that they should have the boy, and he was sent to them. He didn't live five more months.

From what we have been able to determine, this is some of what happened to the child after he arrived in Iowa:

He was having trouble adjusting to his new surroundings. He was enrolled in one school once he arrived in Iowa, then was transferred to another.

His father worked in a factory, and when the boy was home in the daytime his caregiver was Shalonda. Unexplained injuries reportedly kept happening to the child when he was alone with Shalonda.

Investigators said that Charles suffered a broken arm at one point, and no one was able to provide a satisfactory explanation of why it had happened.

(It is difficult to obtain hospital records of abused children, even after they have been killed, in Iowa. A spokeswoman at a hospital where Charles was treated said that for records to be released, permission would have to come from the dead child's guardians: Shalonda and Tumma Green.)

On another occasion -- just a week before the boy's death -- he was taken to the hospital because, according to what his father told investigators, he had "busted his head open" during an accidental fall on some stairs. The child's head was lined with surgical staples after that injury.

In the days leading up to the stomping that police said killed him, the boy had angered his stepmother by losing control of his bowels, a stepbrother told investigators. This allegedly had happened to Charles before, when he was especially upset, and Tumma and Shalonda Green considered it an attempt to "get attention." They reportedly made the 6-year-old wear diapers to punish -- and inevitably humiliate -- him.

On Charles' final day in the house, emergency workers arrived after receiving a call about a child who was not breathing. When they found Charles unconscious, they noticed bruises on the boy's chest and throat. He was rushed to Blank Children's Hospital in Des Moines, where doctors determined that he had severe head injuries, a torn liver, and blood clots under his skull.

He never regained consciousness. Two days later he was taken off life support.

He was kicked to death by Shalonda Green, prosecutors charged; police removed items from the family's home, including Shalonda Green's shoes.

"Any time any person is in a situation like this, and ends up dead, there is a lot of pain and agony before they lose consciousness," prosecutor Sarcone told us. "It goes without saying that the person is very frightened. When the person is a child, who is trying to understand what is being done to him, it's even worse. And when the beating is being done by a person who is supposed to be protecting that child. ..."

Of one thing, Sarcone is certain:

"The boy never had a chance."

He is correct in more ways than one, as we will report tomorrow.

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

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