Guilty on all counts
A Washington County jury didn't believe Roxanne Taylor's tearful claims that she never starved or imprisoned her 6-year-old twins.
The jury found Taylor, 26, of 353 Seventh Ave., New Eagle, guilty Monday night of all charges — two counts each of aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment and endangering the welfare of children.
The jury of five men and seven women deliberated for slightly more than three hours before announcing their decision shortly after 9 p.m.
Taylor lowered her face into her hands and began sobbing as the jurors left the courtroom. The jury began hearing the case against Taylor last Tuesday.
The verdict brings to a close an investigation started by Monongahela police Officer Pete Rocco in the early morning hours of Feb. 15, 2012, when Taylor's son was found in the middle of the road wearing only a diaper and a T-shirt.
He escaped his bedroom through a window, falling about 6 feet onto a concrete sidewalk. His sister was found later by police locked in her bedroom. Rocco and two other officers said they had to beat on the doors and windows of the house for a half hour before Taylor came to the door.
The twins were malnourished, weighed only about 33 pounds each and were covered in feces when they were taken to Monongahela Valley Hospital in Carroll Township, according to Monongahela police. The children were hospitalized for three days at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and have been in foster care since. They were diagnosed with malnutrition, the victims of child neglect and in need of physical, speech and occupational therapy.
Several witnesses, including Mon Valley Hospital nurses, and a paramedic described the twins as looking like they'd come from a “prison camp” or a “Third World country.” The twins were also thought to be only about 2 or 3 years old and had severe speech delays.
Several Washington County Children and Youth Services caseworkers testified the agency had been in and out of the couple's lives since 2008 over concerns about the welfare of the twins, deplorable conditions and a large number of animals, including pit bulls, living in the house. The last open CYS investigation was from September 2010 to June 2011.
Taylor, and the twins' father, Edward J. Buckholz, were arrested March 28. Buckholz, 34, pleaded guilty June 26 to two felony counts of aggravated assault.
Taylor took the witness stand in her own defense Monday, testifying she never neglected or abused her children. She told her attorney, Andrew Glasgow, she has an 11th-grade education, has no prior criminal record and that neither she nor her fiance, Buckholz, was a drug or alcohol user. Taylor did admit she had been prescribed morphine for back problems she has had since she was 15 or 16.
Taylor said she took the twins to doctor's appointments, sought therapy for their developmental delays and fed them three meals a day, plus snacks. She said she removed the twins twice from an early intervention program due to concerns her children were being bullied. Both twins received Social Security disability benefits for their developmental and emotional delays, Taylor said.
She said she decreased the number of animals in their home at the request of CYS officials.
Taylor stated she used a chain lock on the twins' bedroom door, in addition to a tall child gate, for their safety while they were asleep.
“In the middle of the night, my son would climb on cabinets, the refrigerator, the TV. I wanted to make sure they were safe when we went to sleep,” Taylor testified. “I might not be a perfect mother. Nobody is perfect. But I'm a good mother. I love my children.”
She said she kept a lock on the refrigerator over concerns her son might get into medication she had for her cat's infections. A volunteer humane officer said last week she found six dogs, several cats and two rabbits living in filthy conditions after the children were removed from the home. At one time, there were 32 animals living in the home.
Assistant District Attorney Traci McDonald showed Taylor before and after pictures of the children taken the day they were brought to Mon Valley Hospital and recently while in foster care. The twins' current foster mothers both testified last week they weigh about 55 pounds each and have completed kindergarten.
“They never looked malnourished,” Taylor said in response to the photos. “He looks overweight in that photo,” she said of a current photo taken of her son.
She said the twins were “picky eaters,” and were always small in stature. Taylor said she put a potty chair in the kids' room at night and cleaned it daily. McDonald showed the jurors a photo of the potty chair taken on Feb. 15, 2012, that was overflowing with urine and feces.
During their hour-long closing arguments, Glasgow said there was no evidence to prove Taylor abused or starved the twins. He cited a Body Mass Index chart showing the twins were in the average range for their height and weight during every visit to their pediatrician. Glasgow also suggested many of the witnesses were “exaggerating” when describing the kids' condition and that the prosecution was “picking on” Taylor because she is poor.
McDonald told the jurors that the only time the twins were receiving regular medical care and seemed to be healthy was when CYS and other in-home services were involved in their lives.
“When CYS was not involved, she went back to her old habits,” McDonald said.
Following the verdict, Glasgow said he was “mystified” by the jurors' decision and suggested they didn't understand the definition of aggravated assault.
Taylor will be sentenced at 1 p.m. Sept. 13. She remains in the Washington County Correctional Facility.
Stacy Wolford is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-684-2640 or firstname.lastname@example.org.