By DINESH RAMDE, Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin police video released Tuesday shows a 15-year-old girl in an oversized sweat shirt clutching her stuffed bunny, occasionally dabbing her eyes and softly describing years of alleged abuse and starvation by her parents.
The slightly built teen tells a detective she spent the last several years mostly confined to the basement and that she ate food from the trash or the floor because she's always hungry.
"I've just had it," she says at one point, breaking into tears. "I just don't even want to go back there."
The video of the Madison girl was recorded four days after a passing motorist spotted her last month, weighing only 70 pounds, crying and walking barefoot in thin pajamas outside in the cold. She was so small the man mistook her for an 8-year-old.
The girl is wearing a bulky pink sweat shirt in the video that hides her body and makes it difficult to determine her size.
Prosecutors entered the two-hour video into evidence Tuesday at a preliminary hearing for the girl's father and stepmother, who are charged with child abuse, child neglect and reckless endangerment.
Defense attorney William Hayes, who represents the father, had hinted during the hearing that he would address the girl's mental health. He said he reviewed her allegations "and the word 'rubbish' came to mind." He declined to elaborate to reporters after the hearing.
A judge ordered the video released after prosecutors decided not to show it in court. Judge Amy Smith issued her decision over objections from prosecutors who wanted to protect the girl's privacy, and defense attorneys who feared the video might prejudice potential jurors.
In a separate case, the girl's 18-year-old stepbrother is charged with child abuse and sexual assault for allegedly forcing her to perform oral sex on him several times. His arraignment is set for March 19.
The Associated Press typically does not name the alleged victims of sexual assault, and it is not naming the defendants in order to protect the girl's identity.
Prosecutors had earlier requested that the video be allowed at the hearing, which continues Friday, in place of compelling the girl to testify. Videotaped testimony by a child can be admissible in court under limited circumstances, including cases of certain types of abuse. Smith granted the prosecution's request Tuesday.
But instead of playing the video, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne noted that since Smith had seen the entire interview already, there was nothing to be gained from playing it again.
Both Ozanne and the defense then asked that the video be sealed, meaning it wouldn't become part of the public record. Several journalists in the room objected, and after a delay of several hours and testimony from a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel attorney, Smith ruled that the video would be released.
The judge noted that if the girl testified in person, or if the video had been played, the information would have become public. Submitting the video in place of testimony, then, meant it should be subjected to the same standard of openness, she ruled.
In the video, the girl holds her brown stuffed bunny, Mr. Cocoa Bean. She speaks in a raspy voice and eats cough drops, saying she has a sore throat.
She tells an investigator that most of the food she ate was scraps she found on the floor or in the garbage. She says she was forced to bathe in a basement sink and relieve herself in boxes or containers.
The girl says she tried to leave home several times, but that her family always found her and brought her back.
On Feb. 6, she did manage to escape. A man driving by found her wandering the streets barefoot in pajamas and got help for her.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.