DALLAS – An 8-year-old girl was locked in a dark, filthy closet and weighed just 25 pounds when she was rescued last summer, a prosecutor said Tuesday as the trial of the girl's mother got under way.
"Without medical attention, she would have died," prosecutor Patricia Hogue said during opening statements in the trial of Barbara Atkinson, who is charged with serious bodily injury to a child.
Atkinson, 30, has pleaded innocent to the first-degree felony. She faces life in prison if convicted of depriving her daughter of food and locking her in a closet for months at a time.
Defense attorney Brad Lollar withheld his opening statement until after the state presents its case.
Prosecutors say the girl was kept in a lice-infested mobile home closet littered with human waste for months at a time. They showed the jury photos of the girl with distended stomach, bony limbs and sunken eyes. She weighed 25 pounds -- the size of a 2-year-old -- when she was found.
"That's when her growth stopped. She did not grow and develop the way that she should," pediatrician Dr. Susan Scott testified.
The girl suffered brain atrophy, her muscles were wasting away and she was malnourished to the extent that her body could no longer metabolize food, Scott said.
If she had been fed without medical supervision, she could have died of heart failure, Scott said. The first week after she was taken away by authorities, the child was fed intravenously and gained 5 pounds.
Atkinson and her former husband, 34-year-old Kenneth Ray Atkinson, were arrested June 11 after neighbors alerted authorities. The husband is awaiting trial on charges of serious bodily injury to a child and aggravated sexual assault of a child.
Neighbor Jeanie Rivers testified Tuesday that she was devastated after Kenneth Atkinson showed her the child. She said the girl's hair was matted and one eye was swollen shut with mucous.
"To me it was worse than I'd seen of Holocaust victims. It didn't look like a little girl."
Authorities say the girl was forced to watch her five siblings eat, remained naked for months at a time, and was forced or allowed to eat her own waste. The five other children have been placed in foster care.
The girl is now living with Bill and Sabrina Kavanaugh, a couple who had tried to adopt her when she was a baby. Sabrina Kavanaugh said she couldn't comment on the trial but that the child was doing well in their care.