MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A southern Minnesota couple accused of starving their adopted son to the point that authorities said his bones were protruding reached a plea agreement with prosecutors Monday.
Mona and Russell Hauer entered Alford pleas to one count each of child neglect. Mona Hauer pleaded to a felony, while Russell Hauer pleaded to a gross misdemeanor. An Alford plea is a form of guilty plea in which the defendant maintains his innocence, but agrees a jury could find him guilty based on the state's evidence.
According to the plea agreement, the Hauers could each face a maximum of 60 days in jail when they are sentenced next month, attorneys for the state and defense said. Prosecutor Michelle Zehnder Fischer said she has agreed to remain silent at sentencing, while the defense plans to ask for no jail time.
Both sides said the deal spares the boy from having to testify at trial.
The Hauers, of North Mankato, were charged last year with six felonies each, including neglect and malicious punishment of a child. In addition to feeding the boy only liquid and putting an alarm on his door so he would not steal food, authorities said the couple also made him sleep in a sled because he wet the bed.
The boy was 8 years old and weighed less than 35 pounds last October when his mother took him to a hospital. Authorities said at that time that he was 3 feet, 5 inches tall, and about the weight of an average 4-year-old. The criminal complaint said he was "very thin, his bones were protruding, and his abdomen was distended."
He was also found to have a slow heartbeat, anemia and brain atrophy, the complaint said. Court records show he gained 15 pounds in just a month of hospitalization.
The Hauers adopted the boy and his two siblings from an abusive household in 2008. Court documents show the boy had PTSD as well as eating issues and had been regurgitating food.
The Hauers' attorney, Christopher Rosengren, said Mona Hauer put the boy on a liquid diet after talking with a chiropractor.
"These were the go-to foster parents for Nicollet County for eight years," Rosengren said. "Nicollet County was placing children with them because they could handle difficult children — but that's what they got here. ...
"They did what they thought was best for this kid," Rosengren said. "I still believe they did everything they could."
Earlier this year, a judge terminated the Hauers' parental rights to the boy and he was placed in foster care. The judge did not terminate the Hauers' rights to their other three children — including the boy's two biological siblings and the Hauers' biological son. An appeal is pending.
Nicollet County Sheriff's Investigator Marc Chadderdon said he would like to see more jail time but understands the plea deal is in the boy's best interest.
"I'm happy the parental rights have been terminated and he's in a new, better, safe environment," Chadderdon said. "In his therapy, it can be explained to him that 'You don't need to feel any guilt here,'" he said.
Chadderdon said the boy is "growing and gaining weight and thriving."
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