California Trio Charged With Torturing, Abusing Shackled Teen

A couple accused of beating and torturing a teenager, who authorities say was sometimes kept shackled inside their home, appeared in shackles themselves to face more than a dozen kidnapping and child abuse charges.

It was Michael Schumacher and Kelly Layne Lau's first court appearance since their arrest following the boy's escape in nothing more than boxer shorts and a chain around his ankle. The teen was in search of help after allegedly spending more than a year in captivity.

The boy's one-time guardian, Caren Ramirez, also was charged with similar allegations Thursday. She remained under psychiatric evaluation awaiting her court appearance, expected as early as Monday.

Schumacher and Lau were charged with 13 felony counts, and Ramirez, whom the boy called an aunt, was charged with 10 counts. Among the charges are corporal injury to a child, child abuse and aggravated mayhem, which the San Joaquin County District Attorney's office said could yield life sentences.

Superior Court Judge Franklin Stephenson ordered Schumacher and Lau to be held in lieu of $2.2 million bail. They did not enter pleas.

The abuse at the couple's home in Tracy, about 60 miles east of San Francisco, started in July 2007, prosecutors said. The boy escaped from the home on Monday and fled to a nearby fitness center. He appeared emaciated and was covered in soot.

On Thursday, Stephenson ordered all parties not to discuss details of the case.

But Lau told KGO-TV of San Francisco in a jailhouse interview a day earlier that the boy and Ramirez, 43, came to live with her family more than a year ago because they had nowhere else to go.

Ramirez instructed Lau and her husband to discipline the boy as she did, Lau said. She said she struck the boy in the knee with a baseball bat at least five times, KGO reported.

Lau said she participated in the abuse because she was afraid Ramirez would hurt her own children. Ramirez also burned the boy with an aluminum bat heated in a fireplace, she said.

Ramirez would not let anyone else feed the boy, Lau said, adding that the teen would sit in the living room and watch while the Schumacher family, including their four children, ate meals in the kitchen.

Those children, between ages 1 and 9, were placed with Child Protective Services after their parents' arrest. Authorities have said they showed no signs of abuse.

Lau, 30, and Schumacher, 34, through jail officials, declined a request from The Associated Press for interviews Wednesday. On Thursday, jail officials said Ramirez could not see visitors.

Police declined to comment on the accusations made by Lau. Her court-appointed lawyer, Keith Arthur, said the judge's gag order prevented him from discussing the case.

Lawyers for Schumacher and Ramirez didn't immediately return phone messages.

Ramirez had been the boy's legal guardian after child welfare officials took him from his abusive father three or four years ago. According to court documents, she pleaded no contest to one felony count of beating the boy.

Authorities had earlier identified Ramirez as the boy's aunt but said Thursday they learned she was a family friend he called his aunt. Police also previously said the boy was 17 years old. The criminal complaint filed by prosecutors on Thursday said he is 16. Police now say their preliminary information led them to believe he was a year older than he is.