MERCER, Pa. – The mother and maternal grandparents of an 8-year-old Pennsylvania boy doctors said "looked like a Holocaust survivor" were ordered on Thursday to stand trial on attempted murder and other charges for allegedly denying the boy food regularly and hiding him from public view.
District Judge Brian Arthur was so shocked by pictures presented in court and by medical reports of the boy's condition after he was removed from the family's Greenville home in June that the judge ordered the three defendants jailed and set bail at $100,000 each.
Police allege the boy was fed only small amounts of food so he turned to eating bugs when he was allowed onto the back porch. The boy was 7 and weighed 25 pounds when caseworkers took him to Greenville Medical Center, where a doctor reported: "The young man is so emaciated he looks like a Holocaust survivor." A doctor said he was one month from dying.
The judge's decision drew applause from about 60 courtroom spectators — friends, relatives and some complete strangers to the boy — some of whom gasped when the pictures a Mercer County caseworker took of the boy this summer were flashed on a video screen minutes earlier.
Lawyers for the boy's mother, Mary Rader, 28; his grandmother, Deana Beighley, 48; and his step-grandfather, Dennis Beighley, 59; expressed disappointment that their clients were jailed. The three family members had been released from custody after they were charged July 17.
Rader and the grandparents contend the boy has a growth hormone problem.
"I think there's no question what happened here was a tragedy, but the question is who's responsible for it and whether it's a criminal offense," Rader's attorney Jack Cline said.
Neil Rothschild, an attorney for the grandmother, told the judge the adults may be guilty of not seeking proper medical attention for a boy who "had trouble keeping his weight on" but nothing more.
"It sounds more to me like a situation that got away from them," Rothschild said.
County Detective John Piatek, one of two witnesses at the hearing, has said he believes the grandmother disliked the boy and influenced the others to mistreat him, but the detective didn't testify about that Thursday.
He told the judge that one next door neighbor thought Rader, who has four children, had only three children because the neighbor only saw two girls and a boy playing outside.
District Attorney Robert Kochems said the starved boy — identified in testimony only by his initials A.R. — was purposely kept from public view.
When a neighbor finally did see him on June 6, she called to report "what she said appeared to be a walking skeleton," county welfare worker Kendra Manning testified.
Medical personnel noted that the boy's bones protruded so sharply that his skin broke open in some areas, and a doctor at Children's Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh, where he was eventually transferred, concluded he was a month from dying.
Deana Beighley's attorney noted that the boy told a caseworker he ate three meals a day, was treated kindly, and sometimes forced himself to vomit after meals.
But the prosecutor said the boy ate and gained weight normally once he was hospitalized, and has gained about 20 pounds. Kochems said the boy's statements that he was decently treated can be explained by his perspective as a child.
"He doesn't know that they're trying to kill him," Kochems said. "We do."
All four of Rader's children have been placed in foster care.