Local News

Opposing lawyers portray adoptive mother as ruthless, caring

As a murder trial opened, the prosecution and defense painted different pictures of a Johnston County woman accused of killing her adopted son.

Posted Updated

SMITHFIELD, N.C. — Jurors will have to decide whether a Johnston County woman accused of killing her adopted son two years ago was an abusive woman who got out of control, as prosecutors argue, or a caring mother trying to do what she thought was best for her children, as her attorneys say.

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.

The prosecution and the defense made opening statements Friday afternoon. Testimony in the murder trial is expected to begin Tuesday.

"This case is about child abuse. Because of escalating abuse, a 4-year-old little boy, Sean, never made it to 5," Assistant Johnston County District Attorney Paul Jackson told jurors in his opening statement. "This case is also about deception. It took the death of a 4-year-old boy to expose the truth."

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.

Jackson said the couple hid the abuse and deceived the Department of Social Services so they could continue adopting children – and receiving a monthly subsidy for each child – but the abuse grew with the family size.

Lynn Paddock's attorneys insist the death was accidental, not punishment or discipline.

"The evidence will not show that Lynn Paddock used a deadly weapon to intentionally inflict injury on this child," defense attorney Jack O'Hale said in his opening statement.

O'Hale told jurors the case is about a family that followed religious teachings and the adage "spare the rod, spoil the child." Johnston County officials investigated the Paddock home and found it a safe place for six adoptive children with special needs, he said.

"(She) did the very best that she could, in accordance with her beliefs, to take care ... of these seven children," he said.

O'Hale also described Lynn Paddock as a woman who grew up with a volatile home life and ended up in foster care herself.

"Lynn didn't have a normal childhood," he said.

Three of the older adopted children testified in a pre-trial hearing this week 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 on other children, leaving their arms numb and blue from limited blood circulation, the adoptive children testified.

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 evaluations. The reports also stated that the children suffered from post-traumatic stress.

Superior Court Judge Knox Jenkins said jurors would be allowed to hear evidence of ongoing abuse in the household.

Johnny Paddock has maintained he wasn't aware of the abuse. He divorced Lynn Paddock last year while she was in jail awaiting trial, and he said this week that he was prepared to testify against her.

Defense attorneys have alleged Johnny Paddock knew more about of the abuse that he let on, saying he threatened one of his adopted daughters if she said anything "wrong" while on the witness stand. Some of the younger children also said Johnny Paddock was aware of the abuse but ignored it.