Smithfield, N.C. — A Johnston County woman who beat and terrorized her children for years was convicted Thursday in the death of her 4-year-old adopted son.
Jurors deliberated about 2½ hours before finding Lynn Paddock guilty of first-degree murder and felony child abuse in the Feb. 26, 2006, death of Sean Paddock. The jury determined the case qualified for first-degree murder as both torture and a murder carried out during a separate felony.
Authorities said Sean was bound so tightly in blankets that he suffocated. Defense attorneys maintain that the boy's death was accidental and that Paddock's actions were a form of discipline, not abuse.
Paddock, 47, showed no emotion as the verdicts were read. The murder conviction carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Assistant Johnston County District Attorney Paul Jackson said he was pleased with the verdict but called the case "a tragedy all around."
"This was about a 4-year-old boy named Sean who lost his life, so there's nothing to celebrate," Jackson said.
Jurors declined to comment as they left the Johnston County Courthouse.
Johnny Paddock, who adopted Sean and five other children with Lynn Paddock, said he agreed with the verdict.
"I think justice was served. I think they came up with the right verdict," he said.
Johnny Paddock wasn't charged in the case and has said he was unaware of the abuse. He divorced Lynn Paddock last year while she was in jail awaiting trial.
Superior Court Judge Knox Jenkins said during the sentencing that he didn't believe Johnny Paddock's claims, saying Lynn Paddock's ex-husband "does not qualify as a parent in any sense of the word."
Prosecutors have said they didn't have enough evidence to charge Johnny Paddock.
Sean's biological family, which is suing the agencies that placed the boy with the Paddocks, said in a statement that they still have questions about how abuse of several children could have been overlooked for so long.
"We can only say that we draw some degree of satisfaction from knowing that Sean's death has not been forgotten or overlooked. Too many children suffer from abuse at the hands of their caregivers, and too often no one ever knows," the statement said.
The six surviving Paddock children testified during the three-week trial that Lynn Paddock beat them almost daily with flexible plastic rods, wooden spoons and other devices. She also forced them to exercise or sit facing a wall for hours, controlled what they ate and when they went to the bathroom and denied them contact with other children and adults.
A forensic pediatrician described the abuse as "ritualistic torture" that was rooted in Lynn Paddock's obsessive need for control.
Jackson said the state "stepped in to end the cycle of violence" but said the abuse would likely affect the Paddock children for the rest of their lives.
A psychologist who examined Lynn Paddock said he didn't believe she meant to harm her children. An abusive childhood had left her with poor decision-making skills, he said, and she likely turned elsewhere for guidance in how best to discipline her children.
Lynn Paddock wept on the witness stand as she told jurors how she was reared by an abusive mother and winding up in foster care.
She also sobbed as she recounted Sean's death and said she would gladly have traded places with him. But she denied some of the more graphic charges leveled against her by the children, such as forcing them to eat feces and wrapping their heads in duct tape to keep them quiet.
In addition to the life sentence for murder, Jenkins sentenced her to 73 to 97 months in prison on the felony child abuse conviction. Her attorneys argued against the sentence, saying it was unnecessary because of the murder conviction.
Lynn Paddock shook her head as she was taken into custody and led from the courtroom. She was taken to the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh.