Stepfather Of Girl Locked In Closet On Trial For Abuse
Kenneth Atkinson Accused Of Causing Serious Bodily Injury To Girl
POSTED: 8:18 a.m. CST December 5, 2002
UPDATED: 2:34 p.m. CST December 5, 2002
DALLAS -- A neighbor of a man accused of confining his stepdaughter for months in a filthy closet testified at his trial Thursday about discovering the emaciated 8-year-old who weighed only 25 pounds.
Girl In Closet Trial Begins
The girl was naked in the lice-infested and feces-strewn closet, her hair was matted and one of her eyes was swollen shut.
"You don't ever expect to see something like that. It was horrifying," said Jeanie Rivers.
Kenneth Atkinson is charged with causing serious bodily injury to his stepdaughter, was just 3 feet tall when she was rescued from a Hutchins mobile home closet in June 2001.
Rivers' husband alerted authorities after Atkinson showed Rivers the girl locked in a closet in the trailer he shared with his wife. The girl's mother, Barbara Atkinson, was sentenced to life in prison for depriving the child of food, water, clothes and a toilet.
Rivers said she cried at the sight of the girl.
"I asked if he hugged her, kissed her, let her know he loved her," Rivers said. On cross-examination, Rivers said Atkinson answered that he did all those things.
Kenneth Atkinson cried, his shoulders shaking, when Rivers testified about the other five children in the home.
Although the sixth child had been hidden from neighbors, Kenneth Atkinson was the caregiver to the others, "feeding them, clothing them, brushing them and playing with them," Rivers said.
Before testimony began, Kenneth Atkinson pleaded not guilty to the injury charge. Prosecutors waived opening statements.
The 35-year-old man also is charged with sexual assault of a child, but prosecutor Patricia Hogue said she expects to try him only on the injury charge. If convicted, he could face five years to life in prison.
Kenneth Atkinson's attorneys said he was a battered husband who never called police because he was embarrassed.
Defense lawyer Malcolm Dade said his client was fearful of his wife, who threatened to take away his children. When she was away, he would sometimes let the girl out of the closet and feed her, he said.
That wasn't enough, prosecutors said.
"She was living in his home and under his roof," Hogue said. "He had access to her and was ... in charge of that child."
Kenneth Atkinson told authorities that the girl had been confined to the closet for "a year or so," said Hutchins Fire Department Capt. Ryan Woolever.
Prosecutors believe she had been confined for months at a time over several years. Court documents show the child told authorities that both parents denied her food and forced her to live in the closet.
The girl appeared to be no older than 4, Woolever said.
"The paleness of her skin appeared to be that of someone who hadn't had sunlight in a long time," he said about the girl, who he said was very frail and had sunken facial features.
The girl has since been adopted by a couple who had tried to adopt her at birth.
A judge has terminated the Atkinsons' parental rights to the girl's five siblings, who are living in a foster home and available for adoption. Kenneth Atkinson is the biological father of three of the children
these people should be put to death. hard to believe things like this actually happen. how sad!