Tears flow at child neglect trial
Diane Pascale reached up and accepted the box of Kleenex from the judge, softly wiping tears from her eyes.
The emotion of seeing hospital photographs of 6-year-old New Eagle twins allegedly malnourished, weighing about 33 pounds each and covered in feces when they were taken to Monongahela Valley Hospital, was too much for the comprehensive service provider, who works with Community Action Southwest.
“The children never looked like that when I saw them,” Pascale testified. “If they had, I would have contacted the CYS health team. They were never that thin when I saw them.”
Pascale was one of several defense witnesses to testify Friday during the trial of Roxanne Taylor, 26, of 353 Seventh St. She is accused of starving and neglecting her twin son and daughter.
She is on trial at 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 case is being held before Common Pleas Judge Katherine B. Emery.
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, 2012.
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.
Pascale, who works for Community Action Southwest, told Taylor's defense attorney, Andrew Glasgow, she made weekly visits to the home between November 2010 and May 2011 at the request of Washington County Children and Youth Services.
The house smelled like animal urine, she said. The couple had 11 dogs and at least three cats in the house.
Two years old at the time, the boy was 39 inches tall and weighed 35 pounds, slightly more than he did at age 6 when authorities intervened in February 2012.
Asked if the children were malnourished, Pascale replied, “I noticed they were small, but I attributed that to them being twins.”
Pascale said Taylor requested that the children be placed in a Head Start program because they had developmental delays which involved a failure to be toilet trained, speech delays and occasional temper tantrums.
They were enrolled in January 2009 in the Child Alert program designed by Intermediate Unit 1 for children ages 3 to 5 years old, said Leigh Dennick, director of special education at the IU. When the twins entered that program, that ended their association with CYS and Community Action Southwest.
According to IU records, the children had dropped out of the program by August 2009. Re-enrolled in January 2010, they were again pulled from the program by May 5, 2010.
Kathleen Gasgo, a registered nurse for the Women Infants and Children program at Community Action Southwest in Washington, Pa., testified that Taylor expressed concerns over the children's eating habits.
She testified the children had a Body Mass Index of 17 by age 2, and 16.3 seven months later. A BMI under 18.5 suggests a person is underweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gasgo said she assigned the children a high-risk status under WIC guidelines because they were at the very low percentile for height and body weight in early 2008. She described them at the time as having a “failure to thrive.”
Taylor's mother, Cindy Koepfer, testified she felt the children were happy and thin because they were active. Koepfer said she felt the children were healthy but clumsy, leading them to occasionally fall and get bumps and bruises.
Koepfer said she witnessed the children throw toys at each other.
Koepfer said she took the children out for trips to the movies, Chuck E. Cheese's restaurant or McDonald's twice a week and was planning such a trip the day they were taken by authorities.
Koepfer admitted she told her daughter to lock the children's bedroom from the outside and did not feel that was a safety concern even though she had a fire at her home in 2011.
During cross examination, Assistant District Attorney Traci McDonald showed Koepfer numerous photos taken by hospital staff of her grandchildren on Feb. 15.
“What does a starving child look like to you?” McDonald asked.
“I don't think I ever experienced that,” Koepfer replied.
“Did you have any concerns that the children were in Pull-Ups at age 6?” McDonald asked.
“I thought that was normal,” Koepfer said. “My own children were in Pull-Ups until 6.”
McDonald asked Koepfer what she considered signs of neglect, such as finding a child outside alone in the middle of winter, missing doctor's appointments for the children or the children being bruised and dirty.
“Given the conditions you saw at Ms. Taylor's house, do you think she was engaging in neglect?” McDonald asked.
“No,” her mother replied.
Taylor wiped tears from her eyes at various times during her mother's testimony. Eventually, the box of Kleenex was handed down from the witness box to the defense table.
On Monday, the defendant is expected to move from the defense table to the witness stand. The case may go to the jury late Monday.
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.