Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on June 23, 1974 · Page 54
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 54

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, June 23, 1974
Page 54
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Page 54 article text (OCR)

GAZETTE-MAIL ·.!«.,J««f 23,1974 URRENT FFAIRS · Editorials · Columns · Herblock · Want Ads I h f r f are t h o u s a n d s of child abuse in the I n- i t e d S t a l e s e a c h e a r . Here' 1 * a look at one that was heard last week in Mason County Circuit (xurt. ' Never Heard In Child Abuse Case Bv Strat Douthat -- AP Wirephoto POINT PLEASANT (AP) - Times were tough for Joseph and Lillian Mitchell iback in the fall of 1967. He was hobbled by various ailments and was working only a few days a month, driving a truck for a neighbor; she took housekeeping jobs to supplement their meager income. The Mitchells, farm folk who had come ; from Putnam County, lived in the county community of Leon, a few miles east of .this Ohio River town. They had no indoor . plumbing and the house was heated by an open fireplace. : MONEY WAS HARD to come by, " It was during this.period that the Mitch- 'ells -- a childless couple approaching midr ·: die age -- applied with the State Welfare Department to become foster parents, a program whereby participants receive a nominal sum for the upkeep of children who have nowhere else to go or who have been removed from homes with environments deemed unsuitable by the state. The application was accepted-almost imme- ; diately and by February pf that year they began caring for a 4 year-old boy and his I 6-year old sister. · .(-.." ; The years passed and the children, Wes}' ley and Virginia Williams, attended the lo- l cal grade school: In the spring of last year, : the Mitchells were awarded a plaque from ; the Welfare Department; comr^.morating their nearly 'seven years of '·?·'·:..:··"; xor W.ess-' · ;; ley and Virginia.. . -. Then, one day last pecem ;.-er; .Wesley -; by now" a freckle-faced fourth-grader -';. arrived at school complaining of numb- 1 ness in his hands. At the prodding of Leon "· Elementary School principal Lois Shinn, Wesley -- who occasionally was reprimanded for hiding food from, the school i lunch program in his desk -- told a story that sent Mrs. Shinn scurrying to the Wei-' v fare Department. '· · · ACCORDING TO WESLEY, Mrs. Shinn ... testified in circuit court here last week, '.:-· the Mitchells -- whose primary source of. , income during the psst se'. -\} years had been the money U:oy -^-- . ?·( to feud, . house and clothe the · ·· · hr j »· Tied him and his sist- 5 : 1 ·:-; ·· tods with . a rope most of the ?··.::. ··: .-; nights the children had been wit/. :. :.-.. ;tenelis. Wesley was bound hand and waist and Virginia ^ waist only. »· Had kept the children tied in bed and unable to use the toilet from 6:30 in the evening to 6:30 a. m. on school days, and until as late as 9:30 a. m. on weekends and during the summer. »· Had kept the children in a darkened room latched from the outside. *· Had fed them a diet consisting primarily of oatmeal and peanut batter and jelly sandwiches. *· Had threatened to beat Iton if they ever disclosed their plight. + \v\ ^.d generally mistreat::" -.::.·! abused :'".;,-v-- both physically ?;:,'· ·;:;· chologicaliy -- ever since they iodd'ia". through the door of the Mitchell home. MRS. SHINN VOTIFiED the State Welfare Departnv'nt and an investigator immediately rer.ioved the children from the home. The Mitchells, since divorced, were indicted on charges of child abuse, a misdemeanor in West Virginia and punishable by not more than one year in jail. At the time of the indictments last January, State Welfare CoiM-ivssir-ner Edwin Flowers declined to discuss -.h? case ~ith . The Associated Press. His sec-; ?:ary 3aid he was-too busy to accept Uie telephone call, which he never returned. Mason County Prosecuting Atty. Don Kingery said during the luncheon"r:.c?.ss for last Monday's trial he had had $irjj;?.r ^problems ttyhg hut et through to Flowers ^fcboiil fce case. W "I'm certain the Welfare Department won't be too happy to'hear there's a re- "Sometimes we'd get potatoes ana spotter in the courtroom^';.Kingery said, bread;" testified Virginia, wjio said she r over his baked, steak. And I don't blame- had gained more than 10 pounds since them; I'm sure'the defense plans to rake leaving the Mitchell home. . the department over the coals this after- Asked why.she never told anyone of her noon." : : plight, she put her face down into her arms *· ...··-.-v.'. : V'.-.-,:'. T.and began to cry...,-..-.. , ; : '·..'.,.-., IT WAS HOT and hurmdlti Circuit Judg£;£; ? "Because my.;did said:he'd,t)ea : t me if "'James' Lee Thompson's courtroom after /rj.-toid anybody," she choked but between lunch. The'air-conditioning was on the blink and the monotonous hum of an electric-fan forced the score of spectators and the dozen jurors, to lean forward in'their seats and strain to Iwar the testimony. The spec tators \valcn ' d; in anticipation : as the boy, leoknij,- ·';·;·-younger than his 11 years., clambered ;;·· the- high steps to the jury box.:Tbe-e-~-.:s .something elfish about him., despite his'blue suit'and tie and his freshly brushed hair. "My mom tied me up;" he whispered in response tp a question from Kingery. His diet, he told the jurors, consisted primari- ly.of oatmeal and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. "About once a year we got chicken," he said. . · ' . ' " : ' . Virginia, a pretty girl with brown pigtails, followed her little brother to the wit- · ness box. She sat down slowly, careful not to wrinkle her new plaid dress, and began playing nervously with her pigtails as she awaited the questions. sobs. · . ': ··' *· ' · ' .; SHE TESTIFIED later she had purposely attempted to hide from her schoolmates the permanent ropeburn around her waist. . She said she was ashariied of the l.Vz inch- wide ring around her abdomen. During the morning testimony, Mrs. Shinn told of how she felt Wesley had suffered psychological damage. A former Welfare Department caseworker said he had visited the Mitchell home some 10 times during the year lie had been assigned t o t h e home. ' ' . ! ' ' The worker, David Lyon, said he had never witnessed any evidence of mistreatment. He also acknowledged that the Welfare Department caseworker assigned to. "the Mitchell home had never been in the house during the six months the Williams children were her responsibility. Wesley said he could never remember living with'his natural parents. He bagan his testimony referring- to his former fos- WiLUAMS YOUNGSTERS WAITING TO TESTIFY Virginia, 13, and Wesley 11, Level Charges in Abuse. Case ter parents as "mom" and "dad." Later Each of the witnesses testified he or she children had been underfed when they ar- in his testimony it was "Mr.,Mitchell and had never seen the Mitchells mistreat .rived athis.home and had since fared^well Mrs. Mitchell." ' ? '....'. Wesley and Virginia, They also said they ^iMdcking Wesley and Virginia into their Joseph Mitchell, a stooped, bespecta- had. seen the children eat nourishing food room wasn't potentially dangerous. cled 1 man of 54 .who walks with a pronounced limp, seemed bewildered by what he was hearing. H; ; repeatedly cupped his hand -behind his bsadng aid forward- in his .--/at. nd strained · than her ;'or;ue .'' · ;b;±l ihc vigorously shook her head. ausL.g : :,.:, long, gray ponylail :o iw'ih-bac:;: ".:.:! forth, when the children. testified ui being tied and otherwise mistreated. And she huddled urgently with her attorney as Dr. Roy Eshenhaiier, the Point Pleasant physician. who examined the children, testified he believed the boy had suffered from malnutrition and the girl's rope burns were permanent. After the doctor, a parade of defense .witnesses attested to the characters of the Mitchells: Mrs. Mitchell's mother said she had always liked to visit her daughter's home "because I knew I'd get a good .meal.'' ishing i other than sandwiches and oatmeal. Testifying in his own behalf, Mitchell said he had never threatened the children and h,id ;SDanked or whipped them only when they had,needed it, "like any other father." He said he had never been in the children's bedfoom after they were put to bed and therefore could neither refute nor ·confiini .the children's. accusations that Mrs. Mitchell'had tied them with ropes she kept beneath their mattr,esses. Mitchell did say, however, that it was his wife who had put the hook latch on the 'outside of the bedroom Virginia and Wesley shared. Mitchell further said the children had never been to church or Sunday school during the seven-years they had lived in his home. And he said they had never been to the dentist and only rarely to the doctor "because they hadn't needed to go." ' 'They never complained to me about nothing," he said. . Kingery asked Mitchell -- who .said the L.T. ANDERSON God Shows Unusua 111? feres t In an effort to be fair. I listened to a lengthy television interview during which Harold Hughes and Chuck. Colson modestly acknowledged God's unusual interest in them. But neither explained why they were the objects of special attention in a world .filled with strife, pain, and sorrow. Thousands of children died in drought-stricken Africa, for instance, at the very time .Colson was brought into the fold. TAUGHT FROM infancy that drought is duck soup for God. I have never been able to resolve the contradictor} 7 aspects of the well publicized conversions. Nothing in the way of enlightenment was provided by Hughes or Colson. They were the typically Saved. A little condescending about the mysteries to which they held the key. Just the right amount of humility. Totally uninformative. As far as I could determine from their broadcast remarks, the evangelical religion which laid hold of Hughes and Colson is the same religion that seizes the miner who escapes death when an Appalachian coalfield catastrophe takes the lives of others. Invariably the survivor will turn to preaching with the explanation that God saved him for just such a purpose. The implication is strong that God wasn't interested in the men who died. There is a final ingredient to this remarkable stuff of which evangelical religion is made: The convert must have been wicked in his past life. Hughes is a former drunk, which raises the frightening question of whether you'd rather be locked in a room with a former drunk or a religious convert. You -,vould be unwise to look either one in the eye. Hughes may have committed oilier-transgressions, and if he intends to make a career of preaching on his own, he ? d better be reaching for some. Former drunks are a dime a dozen en the circuit. · ALTHOUGH HE betrayed.a flicker of embarrassment about his r.;=.vfo-jnd status. Colson impressed inc ,"s a mere imaginative sinner -- on a level with tiie evar;;-:rr'. -,vho came to Charleton and p;c«chcd in tiv. stnpeci "o;;v. ; ct : :;ciotii : .r»ghe wore while scvvng ~ tenri : ""."r armed reboeiy. As I recall. Uiis gifted fellow also gave chalk talks a:id piayed the trombone. Colson. who may have held back his better sins for plea bargaining sessions, is at a disadvantage, however, in the visual department. The truth is he doesn't look like an evangelist. He looks, at best, like a bookkeeper who teaches Sunday School. Hughes looks like an evangelist. It is easy to picture him in a cowboy hat. If Hughes hod Colson's sins and a name like Jimmy Tom there would be no limit to what he could accomplish, even in a crowded field. Some kind of partnership, with Colsoa remaining in the background, is indicated. In my mind's eye, 1 car. :ee T just rJter thr opening hymn. Hughc-b walking p' C:!.-or,'- prondncfev : -r vivid poi Iraya! of 'n- kind of ticvsc-" h: ""c« 'be. 1 "WHAT IF THE HOUSE had caught fire, what would they have done,", the prosecutor asked. . "Well," Mitchell responded with a shrug, "they could have hollered for us." · -Mrs. Mitchell waslh? last person to take the stand. She denied ai! the charges and said she felt she had taken good care of the children. She said the State Welfare Department apparently had thought so, too. . Mrs. Mitchell, 43, said she fixed the children various dishes, especially a rice re- .cipe preferred by Virginia. She said she had never seen the permanent scar that circles Virginia's waist but added that while she had prepared the children's bath water she had not personally investigated for several years whether they had actually bathed and therefore had not closely inspected their bodies. Hpwever, she said the ring was not apparent when she and her mother had observed Virginia trying on dresses about a year ago. Mrs. Mitchell admitted spanking the children but said she had never punished them excessively nor had she threatened them. She said she had put the hook latch on the outside of the door to ensure the children wouldn't climb out of their beds during the night and get too near the fire. »· "I GUESS," she concluded after pondering the question further, "I guess you could say I was an overprotective mother." At this point, both sides rested their cases and Judge Thompson asked Kingery if he wanted to call any rebuttal witnesses. When Kingery said he wanted Lyon to come back to ihe witness box, defense lawyer J.G. Anderson, · big bear of a man with a jrewcut, jumped up and said he would move for a mistrial if the state, having rested its case, attempted to elicit any direct testimony from Lyon. "No rebuttal?" quipped Kingery, who for the past two hours had obviously become increasingly confident. In the aside with Anderson, the prosecuting attorney apparently was feigning surprise. It was a little private joke in which he chided the defense attorney for not accusing the state of attempting to impeach the credibility of Mrs. Mitchell, whose testimony conflicted with some of that given earlier by Lyon. "YOUR HONOR r I object." Anderson said to the judge. "The jury heard thatand I think you ought to declare a mistrial." The judge pondered the point for a moment, called the attorneys to the bench for a conference, and then declared a mistrial. "I was just afraid some of the members of the jury might have been prejudiced by the prosecutor's remark." he explained later. He also said the case would be reset for later in the current court term. The Mitchells showed no emotion at the judge's action. They filed out of the courtroom separately, after the children bad left, cpparentr bound for UK r.sw home in which they ^ :·;-.: ·:':..·:·.". i. ; K: being tak- "· from the TV',".".".'." The special-: · - ? lai *.o leave. "You knovT. :;:;; ; ;v:n;3n as she ttjriked out V7J1:- '. i'riend. "I nM-er heard we word 'love' oienlioned oncf*al! day.'"

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