PITTSBURGH – A former Pennsylvania prosecutor and his wife pleaded no contest Monday to endangering the welfare of two adopted Ethiopian children after child welfare officials found the boy had been underfed and the girl physically abused.
Douglas Barbour, 34, who resigned from the attorney general's office last year, pleaded to misdemeanor counts and will receive probation when he's sentenced in a few months. His wife, Kristen Barbour, 32, pleaded to felony counts of the same charges and could face prison time, though her attorney, Robert Stewart, said he'll argue she also should get probation.
The Franklin Park couple was charged in October 2012 when the boy was 6 and found to be malnourished, and the girl was 18 months old and found to have several multiple head fractures in various stages of healing. Kristen Barbour allegedly told doctors the toddler often banged her head accidentally, but a doctor told investigators the child's injuries were consistent with abuse.
The couple have two biological children, 2 and 4 at the time charges were brought, who were found not to have been abused. The couple lost custody of them because of the charges, but regained custody in April 2013. The Barbours have surrendered parental rights to the Ethiopian children and the children were placed in protective custody.
Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Jennifer DiGiovanni told the judge Monday the couple sought help from experts, including a doctor with expertise in foreign adoptions, but the couple couldn't deal with the children's special needs because the Barbours were unwilling to change their parenting style.
"The doctor advised the defendants to be more flexible and change their routine and accommodate" the boy, DiGiovanni said. "Both defendants balked at this advice. 'That's not the way we do it. That's not the rules in our house.'"
The couple adopted the children in March 2012 and doctors found evidence of abuse when the boy was treated for an infection that September. The boy weighed 37.5 pounds, nearly 10 pounds less than when he had been adopted, and told investigators he was forced to eat meals in the bathroom or stand alone in there when it was dark whenever he urinated or defecated in his pants. The girl's injuries have not been explained.
"It appears this simply became a situation that was overwhelming," said Douglas Barbour's defense attorney, Charles Porter. "These are good people."
In Kristen Barbour's defense, Stewart said, "They tried to do something wonderful to provide a better life for these kids. This wasn't an act of malice."
Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning seemed to agree.
"It seems to me this started out as a significant act of charity gone awry," Manning said. "I see no evidence of malice here."
The no contest pleas have the same effect as guilty pleas, in that they are considered convictions. But the Barbours haven't acknowledged guilt, only that they're not contesting the allegations.