Mom Pleads Guilty to Locking Girl in Closet

A mother accused of starving her 8-year-old daughter and locking the girl in a dark, filthy closet for months at a time pleaded guilty Thursday to causing serious bodily injury to a child.

The charges against Barbara Atkinson, 30, carried five years to life in prison. The sentencing phase began in the afternoon and will continue Friday.

The surprise plea came on the third day of her trial, shortly after arguments about whether some of the girl's five siblings would testify.

Prosecutors said the girl weighed 25 pounds — the size of a 2-year-old — and was nearly dead when she was found last summer. They showed the jury photos of the girl with a bloated stomach, bony limbs and sunken eyes.

The girl suffered brain atrophy, her muscles were wasting away and she was so malnourished her body could no longer metabolize food, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said the girl was kept in a lice-infested mobile home closet littered with human waste.

Atkinson and her former husband, 34-year-old Kenneth Atkinson, were arrested in June after neighbors alerted authorities. The ex-husband is awaiting trial on charges of serious bodily injury to a child and aggravated sexual assault of a child. He could get up to life in prison.

State workers said the girl was in the care of a foster family, had gained weight and was enrolled in kindergarten.