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Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2001 / 17 Elul, 5761

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

`I hope he knows
he is worthy of love' -- In Lincoln County, Neb., Sean Von Eric Marshall, 41, went before Judge Kent Turnbull and asked to be released without having to post any bail.

Marshall, as we reported, had been arrested by Lincoln County sheriff's deputies for the alleged torture of his 7-year-old son. Once again in Nebraska, law enforcement officials are stunned by the details of the cruelty reportedly inflicted upon a child.

According to prosecutors, Marshall, of Hershey, Neb., had left the boy alone in a van in a Wal-Mart parking lot, while the rest of the family shopped inside. Frightened and upset to be left alone (the store was not in Hershey, but in a neighboring town), the boy got out of the van and walked for three miles through busy intersections and past railroad tracks until he reached the house where a grandmother lived. Marshall found the child at the house.

Marshall, according to prosecutors, tied a rope around the boy, and tied the other end of the rope to himself. He pulled the boy into a funeral home and allegedly, to punish the child, made him touch a dead body in an open casket. He then allegedly took the child to a cemetery, dragged the boy by the rope down a gravel road, and pulled him until he was next to the headstone of a cousin's grave.

Marshall took the boy back to Hershey, prosecutors said, and for two weeks kept him tied to a chair at his hands and feet. When the child managed to bite through one of the ropes, and Marshall discovered it, prosecutors said that the boy's mouth was taped shut so he could not try it again. He was released only to go to the bathroom; even before this punishment, prosecutors said, the rest of the family had their meals at a table, but this boy was always forced to stand and eat.

Now Marshall -- who had been arrested for abusing the boy before, when the boy was 4 -- stood before Judge Turnbull. He asked the judge to let him out on his own recognizance -- no bail requirements.

It's not difficult to understand why Marshall thought that was likely. In Nebraska in recent months, as we have reported, people charged with crimes relating to the torture of children have been asked to post no bail before walking out of the courthouse. In Hall County, Jamie G. Henry and his wife, Billie D. Henry, were released without bail after being arrested for allegedly torturing an 8-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl with an electrified cattle prod; also in Hall County, Robert G. Burkhardt Jr. and his girlfriend, Brenda West, were released without bail after being arrested in connection with cruelty toward a 6-year-old boy who allegedly had been tied up and burned on his back with cigarettes.

So in Lincoln County, Marshall asked to be released with no bail.

Deputy prosecutor Ryan Wilcox asked the judge to impose $50,000 bail on Marshall. The boy Marshall was accused of torturing was in foster care, and would not be difficult for Marshall to find. Wilcox didn't know if Judge Turnbull would order the $50,000 bail.

The judge didn't.

He ordered $100,000 bail.

And he told Marshall that if he came near the boy, or any of the other three children in the family, the bail would go up to $1 million.

"One of the reasons one asks for bond to be set is if there are concerns for the safety of the victims," said Lincoln County deputy prosecutor Rebecca Harling. "It's not to punish the alleged offender; it's to protect others. I am very pleased in this case."

Marshall is in the Lincoln County Jail, awaiting trial. As for the child, Harling said:

"I feel so badly for him. I can't even fathom how a little boy who has been treated the way he has been treated recovers. To constantly treat a child like that . . . I hope he knows, or that he soon will know, that he is a person who is worthy of love."

That's what is stolen from the children who are tortured -- that's what is stolen from a child who is burned or tied up or forced into long confinement. Finally there seems to be a growing recognition of the seriousness of this cruelty. On Monday, as we conclude this phase of our coverage of these crimes against Nebraska children, we will explain the common thread that runs through all of them.

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

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