MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin parents who were worried that their infant daughter would become obese starved her for months, causing the girl to gain just 5 pounds in the 14 months after her birth, prosecutors allege.
Christopher and Mary Sultze of Appleton each were charged this month with one felony count of child neglect. Each would face up to a year and a half in prison and $25,000 in fines if convicted.
Christopher Sultze, 35, appeared in court Thursday and was released from jail on bond on the condition that, among other things, he'd have no contact with the child. His preliminary hearing was rescheduled for next week.
Mary Sultze, 36, waived her right to a preliminary hearing Wednesday in exchange for her release on bond so that she could tend to her other three children, said her attorney, Brandt Swardenski. She also was ordered to have no contact with the daughter she's accused of starving.
Neither has entered a plea.
"I have serious reservations about whether there's any criminal activity here or just misguided parenting intentions," Swardenski said. "This is a case where we need to reserve judgment until we learn more details on exactly what occurred."
Christopher Sultze's attorney, Michael Petersen, declined to comment.
According to the criminal complaint, the couple's daughter weighed slightly more than 8 pounds when she was born in July 2010 and weighed just 13 pounds this past September. A doctor told police the girl would have to weigh 22 pounds to even get on growth charts for her age. Another physician noted that the child had no subcutaneous fat on her body and was essentially starving.
Doctors began tracking the girl's lack of growth and weight gain at her four-month checkup in November 2010, when she weighed just 7 pounds, 9 ounces.
Her parents began to grow irritated that doctors were continually concerned about her weight, the complaint said. They insisted they were feeding her enough, and said their other children grew slowly and that they believed the girl would eventually gain weight.
Months went by with no significant improvement and tests for potential medical problems came back negative. In August, the family's doctor convinced the Sultzes to admit the girl to Children's Hospital of Fox Valley for an evaluation, investigators said.
The girl gained 8 ounces over a day at the hospital, but a social worker assigned to the family as part of the admittance process noted that the girl's parents were upset by recommendations that they needed to feed her more calories and said they wanted to take their daughter home, against the advice of her doctors.
According to the complaint, Christopher Sultze told a doctor he didn't want to have obese children and he kept insisting the girl would "get fat" at the hospital.
He later told police and another social worker that his family follows a very low cholesterol diet. He said he underwent bypass surgery for a blocked artery when he was 25 years old.
Court records show that Mary Sultze was charged in 2009 with misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct for biting her four-year-old daughter on the arm. According to the criminal complaint in that case, she told police she bit her daughter to teach her a lesson after the girl bit her older sister. Mary Sultze acknowledged that "it probably wasn't right to do."
She ultimately pleaded no contest to the disorderly conduct charge, which is not an admission of guilt but is treated as such for sentencing purposes. Prosecutors dismissed the battery count.