Jurors deliberate fate of "Angry Mom" from Dr. Phil show

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 22, 2011 10:23 PM
Jurors deliberate fate of "Angry Mom" from Dr. Phil show

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Jurors began deliberations on Monday in the child-abuse trial of an Alaska mother seen forcing her adopted Russian-born son to swallow hot sauce during an "Angry Moms" episode of the "Dr. Phil" show.

Jessica Beagley was charged with misdemeanor child abuse, punishable by up to two years in jail, after homemade video of her discipline methods aired on the popular daytime television series, sparking a furor in the United States and Russia.

Outraged viewers alerted authorities to the footage, which also showed Beagley, 36, forcing the sobbing 7-year-old boy to stand in a cold shower while she yelled at him.

The hot sauce and cold shower were said to be imposed as punishment for the boy's misbehavior at school.

Municipal prosecutor Cynthia Franklin, in closing arguments, said Beagley staged an extreme punishment that she knew would be ineffective to win a spot on the nationally syndicated show hosted by psychologist Phil McGraw.

Beagley may not be a bad mother or a habitual child abuser, Franklin said, but the particular incidents shown in the videotape amounted to criminal abuse.

"Jessica Beagley wanted to be on TV, and she made a videotape that the show required in order for her to get on TV," Franklin said. "There is no reason in this world why someone would have to hurt a child to get on a reality show."

The case has attracted attention in Russia, where there is growing concern about adopted children from that country facing abuse in the United States. Russian news reporters have covering the Anchorage trial, which started last week.

Defense attorney William Ingaldson said Beagley's harsh punishment methods, which he said she has since abandoned, and her willingness to subject herself to public ridicule in order to obtain advice from Dr. Phil, grew out of desperation.

She and her husband had struggled with the boy, who was adopted at age 5 along with his twin brother from an orphanage in Magadan, Russia, Ingaldson said.

Both boys have since been diagnosed with an emotional disorder stemming from their difficult early years in Russia and are now in long-term therapy, the defense lawyer said.

While the punishment methods broadcast on "Dr. Phil" may be controversial and upsetting to some, they do not rise to the level of a crime, Ingaldson told jurors.

"It's not child abuse. It's not an offense to punish someone because people on a jury say they would do it differently," he said.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)