Jury: Missouri ranch not liable in Michigan couple's murders

A Missouri ranch for troubled boys isn't liable in the 2013 murders of a Michigan couple by two teenagers who had run away from the facility, a jury decided in a lawsuit filed by the couple's children.

The family of Paul and Margaret Brooks, of Baldwin, Michigan, sued Lives Under Construction, a Christian juvenile rehabilitation center near Lampe, after Anthony Zarro and Christopher Allen broke into their winter home in Stone County, Missouri, and stabbed the couple to death.

The family contended that the ranch didn't adequately supervise the juveniles in its care, didn't alert the authorities or nearby residents that the teens had escaped two days before the attack, and improperly took Zarro and Allen off of needed psychiatric medication without consulting a doctor.

A Lawrence County jury found for the ranch Monday after a two-week trial that revealed that Sue Brooks apparently was forced to watch her husband's death before she was repeatedly stabbed, The Springfield News-Leader reported .

Zarro and Allen were 16 and 15, respectively, at the time of the attack. They both pleaded guilty to murder and are serving life sentences.

John Schultz, a lawyer for Lives Under Construction, said in his closing arguments that the ranch was not directly responsible for the actions of two boys, who were high and drunk at the time of the murders. He said the ranch had helped hundreds of boys with a program that takes them off of psychiatric medicine and emphasizes hard work and Christian faith.

The lawyer for the Brooks family, Randy Cowherd, argued that the ranch was not equipped to handle Allen and Zarro, who he said had severe mental health issues and should not have been taken off their medication. He said the ranch was repeatedly told by the state not to take boys at the ranch off their medications without a trained psychologist or psychiatrist monitoring them. Using an exemption for religious facilities, Liver Under Construction voluntarily surrendered its state license a few years ago.

The Brooks family was seeking between $7.6 million and $21 million. Seven board members for the ranch previously settled with the Brooks family for a combined total of $2.85 million.

Lives Under Construction faces three more lawsuits that claim that boys sexually abused each other for years and the ranch covered it up. The ranch denies those allegations.


Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com