Witnesses: Refrigerator locked in starving kids' New Eagle home
About a year before one of Roxanne Taylor's twins was found lying in the middle of the street wearing a T-shirt and a diaper, she received a “nurturing parent” certificate.
The therapist who awarded the New Eagle woman the certificate described a home environment that was much different from the one officials contend led to the twins being removed from their parents' care.
Doug Conroy, of JusticeWorks, was one of seven witnesses who testified Thursday in Taylor's trial.
Taylor, 26, of 353 Seventh St., is accused of starving and neglecting her twin son and daughter.
She is on trial at the Washington County Courthouse on charges of aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment and endangering the welfare of children.
The twins' father, Edward J. Buckholz, 34, pleaded guilty June 26 to two felony counts of aggravated assault. Taylor opted to take her case to trial. A jury of seven women and five men will decide her fate.
Monongahela police Officer Pete Rocco charged the couple after the boy was discovered lying in the middle of Seventh Avenue shortly before 6 a.m. Feb. 15.
Police believe the boy climbed out of a bedroom window. Officials later found his sister in a locked bedroom in the house. The couple had told police the children wandered at night.
The twins allegedly were malnourished, weighed about 33 pounds each and were covered in feces when they were taken to Monongahela Valley Hospital in Carroll Township, according to Monongahela police.
Conroy, one of three witnesses called Thursday by defense attorney Andrew Glasgow, said Washington County Children & Youth Services asked his agency to provide services in the Taylor-Buckholz home because of concerns about neglect.
Caseworkers previously testified that the agency had periodically been involved with the family since 2008 over concerns about the twins' welfare, deplorable housing conditions and a large number of animals in the house.
Conroy said he provided in-home counseling from Nov. 15, 2010, through March 14, 2011. Conroy testified that while he consistently detected an odor from the animals in the house, he never saw feces in the living areas. He said he saw Taylor feeding and playing with the children. He saw toys in their room and no signs of neglect.
“I observed a bond between the mother and the children,” Conroy said. “It appeared she loved her kids, and they loved her.”
Conroy said Taylor and Buckholz successfully completed a nurturing parent program, and he reported their progress to CYS officials.
Assistant District Attorney Traci McDonald showed Conroy photos of the children and their home that were taken the morning of Feb. 15.
Some of the photos showed a locked closet door and toy chest — and a potty chair full of feces and urine in the twins' bedroom. Other photos showed the conditions of the twins.
“Do these look like well-fed kids?” McDonald asked.
Conroy responded, “no.”
Conroy said Taylor and Buckholz would not have received credit for completing the nurturing program if he had observed such conditions.
Defense witnesses Christy Conrad and Antoinette Tarquinio each testified that they helped to arrange early intervention therapy programs for the children in 2008.
Before the defense began its case, several prosecution witnesses testified.
CYS caseworker Heather Miller testified she was on call the morning of Feb. 15 when she reported to Taylor's home. Miller said she took photos throughout the home.
“There were no toys in the kids' bedroom, and there was a lock on the refrigerator, which was full of food,” Miller said.
Miller stated that during a follow-up meeting with the parents, Taylor asked her what to do with food she had just purchased for the twins.
“She said there were starving kids in Africa, and didn't want the food to go to waste,” Miller said.
Volunteer humane officer Cathy Cunningham testified she was called to Taylor's home March 13, where she removed two rabbits, six cats and six dogs from the house.
She testified that a puppy wearing a diaper and an adult dog were tied to the parents' bed.
“Breathing was a problem in there,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham said she was called to the house three times in 2011.
Cathy Gemas testified she was the twins' foster parent after the children were removed Feb. 15 and released from Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. The twins had been diagnosed with malnutrition.
Gemas said that under her care, the twins began to gain weight and their hair started growing back. She said she accompanied them to physical, occupational and speech therapy programs.
“They wouldn't stop eating,” Gemas said. “They would cry if I put leftovers away.”
She said the children never wanted doors closed and waited for her to tell them it was OK to get out of bed in the morning. Gemas said she had to show them how to play with toys.
Under cross-examination, Gemas said she took the twins for a medical evaluation because of concerns about their behavior.
She said they initially made progress, but then regressed. The twins' were later diagnosed with intellectual and emotional delays and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Gemas said CYS officials later decided to place the twins in separate foster homes.
“I wanted to adopt them,” Gemas said.
Aislynn Jenkins, a physician's assistant at Mon Valley Community Health Services in Monessen, testified she first met the twins for a check-up in January 2008 when they were 23 months old.
Jenkins testified that before that session, a doctor hadn't seen the children since they were 3 months old. Jenkins said the twins were born at a “healthy birth weights” – seven and eight pounds each. Subsequently, Jenkins diagnosed them with “failure to thrive.”
Jenkins said she contacted CYS and referred the children to specialists for testing.
“I was concerned about their weight, lack of consistent medical care, and there were hygiene issues,” Jenkins said. “And there was an odor (on them.)”
Jenkins said that during a Feb. 20, 2008, medical visit, the parents indicated they “didn't believe” they had to follow up with the specialists.
“They kept insisting the kids were small due to familial traits,” Jenkins stated.
The trial was expected to resume at 8:45 a.m. Friday before Judge Katherine Emery.
Stacy Wolford is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-684-2640 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.