Adults to be tried in starvation case: Judge slams defendants
March 5, 2006
CARSON CITY – A capital city judge Friday didn’t mince his words when announcing there was enough evidence to try three adults in the starvation and imprisonment of two children.
“I can’t help but say animals treat their children better than this,” an angry Justice of the Peace Robey Willis spat. “I haven’t seen anyone this abused since I saw pictures of those poor survivors in those concentration camps. Well the same thing that happened there, happened in this case, it appears. You used to hear those people say at those Nuremberg trials, ‘I just took orders.’ Well, it looks to me like two people took orders from one person and they could have stopped it at any time. I’m totally disgusted there are human beings on the face of this earth just like you people.”
Esther Rios, 56, her daughter Regina Rios, 33, and son-in-law Tomas Granados, 33, will each be tried on two counts of felony child abuse causing substantial bodily harm, two alternate counts of child neglect causing substantial bodily harm and two counts of false imprisonment with the purpose of avoiding arrest for the alleged abuse of Regina Rios’ 16-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. The grotesquely malnourished children were discovered Jan. 19 after the girl ran away and told police she and her brother had been locked in a bathroom for years.
Dr. Kathi Amrhein, the on-call pediatrician at Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center, said when the children were brought into the emergency room she was stunned by their condition.
“I was incredibly shocked when I realized this was a 16-year-old,” she said.
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She said the girl, who weighed only 41 pounds at the time and stood just over 4 feet tall, looked “wasted away.
“She looked like a 7- or 8-year-old child, her hair was dirty and unkempt, she had multiple scars on her head from being repeatedly hit by the grandmother,” she recalled. “She had several bruises along her back. She stated it was from being beaten with a stick by the grandmother for some infraction.”
Amrhein also mentioned the girl’s teeth were badly decayed because of stomach acid. During last week’s testimony, the girl stated she would often regurgitate her food and chew it again.
“She threw up because she was starved and hungry,” Amrhein said.
She said when she asked the girl when she’d last eaten, the girl said her grandmother had given her a slice of bologna on a “rotted-out bagel” the night before.
Since the girl’s discovery, she’s gained 23 pounds.
The boy, she said, has a pronounced speech impediment, frostbite on three of the toes on his left foot and one toe on his right foot and his feet and legs were deformed, “from being in a confined enclosure for so long.
“He is in physical therapy a couple times a week to strengthen his muscles,” she noted, describing his gait as shuffling along “similar to an elderly gentlemen.”
Amrhein said he was unable to pick up his feet and unable to stand up straight. He weighed just 31 pounds and stood 3-and-a-half feet tall. Since his discovery he’s put on 12 pounds.
“His knees and hips are deformed because he spent a majority of his time underneath the (bathroom) vanity sleeping,” she said. “(It’s) from being in a fetal position for a significant amount of time over the last five or six years.”
She went on to say an X-ray showed the boy had stopped growing at age 5 or 6. He will celebrate his 12th birthday on Friday.
Once both children began getting proper nutrition, and their conditions were stabilized from the shock of the renourishment, the girl began to go into puberty, Amrhein said. She said this caused doctors a problem, since in order for growth hormones to work, puberty would have to be stopped. The girl is currently on a regimen of shots to both stop puberty and help her to grow.
As a result of renourishment, both children developed hepatitis because their livers were unaccustomed to protein, Amrhein explained. The hepatitis has since disappeared for the girl, but the boy still has it, she said.
She went on to say the children are not expected to reach their full height potential. Calculations based on the mother’s and father’s heights indicate the girl should have been 5 feet, 4 inches tall.
“If we can get her to 5 feet, that will be a miracle,” Amrhein said.
The height of the boy’s father was not available for comparison.
Amrhein scoffed at a defense suggestion that the children suffered from an eating disorder.
“Neither one of these children have an eating disorder. Neither one of these children had an aversion to food. In fact, we couldn’t feed them enough,” she said.
The assertion of an eating disorder was heard again through taped police interviews with Regina and Esther Rios played Friday during the proceeding.
“We moved here because the schools (in Los Angeles) will not take (the girl) because she was stealing from them. She was stealing their lunches,” Esther Rios said in the interview. “She was not only stealing food. She was stealing food stamps and actual money and going to the corner stores and buying all kinds of candies and all that.”
Esther Rios suggested the girl’s habit of bingeing and purging the food she stole from the family was a condition they’d been battling with for years. “The habit,” which Esther Rios said the girl “taught” the boy, was what forced the family to lock them in the bathroom.
“We have been working with her in every way. It’s that she eats the food and brings it back up and chews it over again. She’s not getting no vitamins in her body. She’s depriving her body of everything. I’m the one that’s been trying to help her. There is no treatment for what she has.”
She admitted she locked the children in the bathroom, but only at night and only to protect them, she said.
“When did you start locking them up in the bathroom?” Detective Dave Legros asked during the interview.
“When they started stealing through the whole kitchen,” Esther said. “I used to tell my daughter that they were stealing from the kitchen and then in the morning they would be sick, throwing up, having stomach aches from eating all this food. What could I do? Put a lock on the refrigerator?”
“You lock them in the bathroom when you guys go places?” Legros asked.
“Well, they usually just stay over there in the bathroom because they would harm themselves. It was not intentional to hurt them,” she explained. “She used to hurt herself by gorging herself.”
Regina Rios said in her interview the children received plenty to eat.
“They both eat very good,” she said.
She said her daughter could control her “habit.”
“I plead with her to please stop doing that. Gain some weight and everything will be perfect if you just change,” she said.
“What does she tell you when that happens?” Legros asked.
“‘I’m trying. I’m trying.’ And I said you have to try. You’re the only one who can stop doing what you’re doing,” Regina Rios said.
She said her mother was the primary caregiver to the two victims while she cared for their three healthy siblings.
“It hurts me so much because they don’t want to gain weight and we try to live normal, because this isn’t normal. Keeping them home isn’t normal. Keeping them not like the other children is not normal,” she said.
Regina Rios wept on and off during the hearing. When her defense attorney Tom Susich showed her photos of the children in the nude taken the night they went to the hospital, she appeared repulsed by them, shaking, looking away and trying unsuccessfully to fight back tears.
Esther Rios and Tomas Granados were unemotional during most of the hearing.
Esther Rios’ only outward emotion was during the playing of her daughter’s taped interview. When Regina Rios began to cry on the tape, Esther Rios cried silently in the courtroom, turning her head and shoving her face into her shoulder. The display lasted just a short time.
A district court arraignment for the Rios women and Granados is expected to be in three weeks. All three are being held on $100,000 bail.
The two victims are in foster care together. Three healthy siblings are also in the custody of the state.