Mother sobs when discussing boy's death
Posted June 9, 2008 11:12 a.m. EDT
Updated June 9, 2008 9:55 p.m. EDT
Smithfield, N.C. — A Johnston County woman accused of killing her 4-year-old adopted son took the stand Monday at her trial, weeping when describing her own abused childhood and when talking about the dead boy.
Lynn Paddock, 47, is charged with murder in the Feb. 26, 2006, death of Sean Paddock. Authorities said Sean was bound so tightly in blankets that he suffocated.
Defense attorneys have argued that Sean's death was accidental and that Paddock's actions were a form of discipline, not abuse.
"If I could take Sean's place, I would in a heartbeat," a sobbing Paddock told jurors. "That's a feeling I've never felt in my life."
She said she swaddled Sean in a blanket to keep him from getting out of bed at night to play and was stunned to learn he had died one morning.
"I started doing CPR. I thought he was still alive at that point. I thought there was no way he could be dead," she said.
Paddock also broke down on the witness stand as she recounted being raised by an abusive mother who drank and took pills.
"There was this big, very heavy PVC pipe that was also flexible, and that's what she used to discipline us," she said, adding that she was later placed in a foster home.
After trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, Paddock said, she became interested in adoption upon learning that Dave Thomas, the founder of the Wendy's fast-food chain, encouraged people to adopt older children.
She and her then-husband, Johnny Paddock, adopted six children between the mid-1990s and 2005, when Sean and his biological brother and sister were placed with the family.
Lynn Paddock testified that some of her adopted children came to the couple with emotional issues and that other families didn't want them.
"We decided that, no matter what, we'd take what God brought us. Whatever they needed, we would give it to them," she said.
Deborah Artis, a regional director with the Children's Home Society who worked with Johnny and Lynn Paddock to adopt the children, testified Monday as the first defense witness that four of the adopted children had some emotional problems prior to being adopted.
One of the adopted daughters lied a lot and another spent time at a psychiatric hospital, while one of the adopted sons had anger issues, according to Paddock.
Lynn Paddock said she and her husband decided to use discipline techniques espoused by the Rev. Michael Pearl, an evangelical minister from Tennessee who publishes books and articles on rearing submissive children. She said swatting children with flexible plastic rods was preferred to spanking because it was less demeaning.
"We liked Michael Pearl's (system) because it was quick (and) it didn't demean the child and bring their self-esteem down," she said.
She described herself as a submissive wife and said she assumed the role of disciplinarian in the Paddock home because Johnny Paddock once got too angry while disciplining one of the children. Her ex-husband helped her purchase the flexible rods, she said.
Johnny Paddock hasn't been charged in the case, and he said he was willing to testify against his ex-wife, whom he divorced last year while she was in jail awaiting trial.
Prosecutors spent two weeks presenting testimony from the surviving Paddock children about almost daily abuse inflicted by Lynn Paddock and from expert witnesses who called the beatings and restrictions placed on the children "ritualistic abuse."
Lynn Paddock denied claims by some of the children that she wrapped their faces in duct tape or forced Sean and his sister to eat feces. She said she did make Sean's brother eat his own vomit, but said she thought he was acting out like two of the other children.
"I'm very ashamed. Tami and Ray would make themselves vomit, and I thought that's what he was doing too," she said.
Artis said she never physically inspected six children placed with a Johnston County couple because the children seemed to be adjusting well to their new surroundings. The adoption agency performs criminal background checks on prospective adoptive parents and offers them parenting classes, she said.
She wept on the witness stand when she looked at pictures of Sean's body, saying she learned of allegations that Lynn Paddock hit the children with rods and other devices through news coverage of the case.
The adoption agency has a "no-hitting" policy that the Paddocks signed, she said.
Lynn Paddock admitted that she lied to social workers about hitting the children.
Jurors also learned that the Paddocks received $2,200 a month in state subsidies for adopting the children.