Local News

Psychologist: Adoptive mother didn't intend to harm children

Posted June 10, 2008 11:08 a.m. EDT
Updated June 10, 2008 7:50 p.m. EDT

— A Johnston County woman accused of habitually beating her adopted children and killing one of them was herself a victim of child abuse, witnesses said Tuesday.

Lynn Paddock, 47, is charged with murder in the Feb. 26, 2006, death of her 4-year-old adopted son, 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.

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for Wednesday.

Testifying in her own defense Monday, a sobbing Paddock 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.

James Hilkey, a psychologist who evaluated Paddock, testified Tuesday that he doesn't think she intended to harm her children. He said she suffers from chronic depression and a poor self-image that was developed during a troubled childhood.

Paddock's half-brother, Fred Neyhart, told WRAL that Paddock's mother visited her in Johnston County shortly before Sean's death, he said. It was the first time the two women had seen each other in about 30 years, and he said it might have triggered a response in her.

Outside of court Tuesday afternoon, Paddock's half-brother and stepsister said they agreed with Hilkey's assessment.

"I think she got heavier handed than she intended. She just wasn't like that," stepsister Tanya Luck said, referring to prosecutors' portrayal of her as a chronic child abuser. "I know that Lynn has told her children that she loved them."

"It's unfortunate that the prosecution and, unfortunately, the media has made it look like she's a terrible monster," Neyhart said. "She did get carried away with her discipline, but that was the only form of discipline that she knew because that's what she grew up with.

"Someone that goes out of their way to adopt children, to help children, to try to care (for) and nurture children, she did not mean that child any harm," Neyhart said.

"I know that Lynn is very sorry. She knows that it's a terrible accident. She would never cause any person harm intentionally," said one of her foster sisters, Stephanie Myles.

Paddock wept Monday as she recounted for jurors how she was reared by an abusive mother who drank and took pills.

Neyhart, and Jean Cothran, who works with the Department of Social Services in Fairfax, Va., corroborated Paddock's testimony.

"We were not treated like children. We were physically (and) emotionally abused," Neyhart testified Tuesday.

Cothran called Paddock's mother one of the most abusive women local social workers had ever seen. The woman even called Cothran's home once and threatened her children, Cothran testified.

Paddock eventually was placed in foster care, and other children in the foster home described her as sweet and kind and good with children.

"She was the follower. She always had to have someone tell her what to do or (give) advice on how to do it," Myles said.

Hilkey said Paddock's difficult childhood prevented her from developing an internal compass to negotiate situations in life. As a result, he testified, doesn't cope well with stress and usually defers to other people.

"She is a person who is psychologically fragile," he said. "She is a person who's terrified of rejection, so she tends to find people she can cling to."

Paddock described herself as a submissive wife who assumed the role of disciplinarian for a stepdaughter and six adopted children because her then-husband, Johnny Paddock, once got too angry while spanking one of the children.

She testified that Johnny Paddock approved of using flexible plastic rods to swat the children and even helped purchase the rods.

Johnny Paddock hasn't been charged in Sean's death and maintains he was unaware of the almost daily abuse inflicted on the children for years.

Jurors were shown pictures of the Paddock family, smiling in group shots and enjoying the animals on their farms. One series of photos, entitled "Important Things in Our Lives," including church, trips, birthdays, presents and new children.

Lynn Paddock denied some of the claims made by her children during the trial, such as wrapping duct tape around their heads to keep them quiet or forcing them to eat feces. Some of the children had emotional problems before they were adopted and required additional discipline, she said.

She said she based her discipline system on the teachings of the Rev. Michael Pearl, an evangelical minister in Tennessee who has written books and articles on raising submissive children.

"She wanted her family to be perfect, so she would pretty much follow any book or any suggestion that you give her on helping these children through life," said Judy Blazek, another of Lynn Paddock's foster sisters.