Expert: Adoptive mother engaged in 'ritualistic torture'
Posted May 21, 2008 10:39 a.m. EDT
Updated May 28, 2008 9:40 p.m. EDT
Smithfield, N.C. — A judge Wednesday rebuffed defense efforts to delay the trial of a woman accused of killing her adopted son, and jury selection began in a Johnston County courtroom.
Lynn Paddock is charged with the Feb. 26, 2006, death of 4-year-old Sean Paddock. Investigators said Sean suffocated after she wrapped him tightly in a blanket to keep him from wandering around the house at night.
Paddock's attorneys insist the death was accidental, not punishment or discipline.
The lawyers asked Superior Court Judge Knox Jenkins to postpone the trial, saying the prosecution was too slow in giving them information about Sharon Cooper, a child-abuse expert who likely will testify for the prosecution.
Cooper had evaluated Lynn Paddock's other adopted children in recent months, and Jenkins earlier had ordered prosecutors to hand over all details of her evaluations. He denied the request for a delay, however.
In a letter to Assistant Johnston County District Attorney Paul Jackson, Cooper described the abuse the children endured as "a sadistic form of ritualistic torture" that led to the death of the youngest and most defenseless victim.
"The abusive behaviors of Lynn Paddock were described in a soberingly similar manner by all of the surviving children as long as more than a year or more after their removal from the Paddock home," she wrote in the letter. "In addition, the residual mental health problems for all of them affirm the predictable outcomes of severe physical abuse and severe global neglect."
She said the Paddocks likely adopted the children for monetary gain – the state paid the family $2,200 a month in adoption subsidies – because "little money could be demonstrated to have actually been spent on the children, all of whom were severely malnourished, ill clad, educationally deprived, and socially stunted at the time of their rescue."
When the children were removed from the family's custody after Sean's death, they were malnourished, showed bruises and marks consistent with chronic beatings and were educationally deprived, according to state reports. The evaluations, which were done at various times from last fall to March, stated that the children suffered from post-traumatic stress.
Johnny and Lynn Paddock, two recovering alcoholics, adopted six children from the mid-1990s through 2005, when foster care officials placed Sean and his biological brother and sister with the family.
Three of the older children, including Johnny Paddock's daughter from a previous marriage, testified Monday and Tuesday during a pre-trial hearing that Lynn Paddock habitually abused them for years. She beat them, had them run in place or jump on a trampoline for hours, forced them to sit in their urine and at least twice shoved feces in the mouths of younger children, they testified.
Lynn Paddock also used the blanket-wrapping technique that authorities said killed Sean Paddock on other children, leaving their arms numb and blue from limited blood circulation, the adoptive children testified.
Jenkins also denied a defense motion to prevent statements Lynn Paddock made to police after Sean's death from being used in the trial. Her attorneys said officers didn't inform her of her right to remain silent until part way through an interview, but the judge said her rights weren't violated because she wasn't under arrest at the time.
Dozens of witnesses were expected to testify in the case – the prosecution has 47 names on its witness list and the defense has 42. Potential witnesses include the Paddock family's pastor, Johnston County Department of Social Services officials, medical experts and an evangelical minister who coaches parents on discipline techniques.