Opening statements next in trial over boy cuffed to porch

AP News
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Posted: Mar 17, 2015 9:06 PM

MONROE, N.C. (AP) — A jury was seated Tuesday in the trial of a North Carolina man accused of handcuffing an 11-year-old boy by his ankle to a porch with a dead chicken around his neck as punishment.

Dorian Harper, 58, is charged with felony child abuse, false imprisonment and maiming. If convicted, he faces up to 21 years in prison.

"This is a very serious case, with very serious implications for Mr. Harper," Judge Brad Long told the jury, which was seated after two days of questioning of prospective jurors.

Harper rejected a plea deal offer Monday from prosecutors, saying he wanted a trial. Opening statements are to begin Wednesday morning in the case.

Harper and his girlfriend, Wanda Larson, also 58, were arrested after a sheriff's deputy found the boy in November 2013. Larson was the boy's guardian and a supervisor for the Department of Social Services in North Carolina's Union County.

Larson faces similar charges. Both have pleaded not guilty and her trial is pending.

Authorities said they think Harper tied the dead chicken around the boy's neck as punishment for killing one of the chickens on the 5-acre farm where they lived.

The indictment against the couple said the boy had been subject to abuse that also included being chained to a piece of railroad track in his room. Harper cut the boy's face with a knife and used an electric wire to burn his face, according to the indictment. It also said the boy once broke his wrist trying to escape.

Four other children living in the home — ages 7 to 14, all adopted by Larson — at the time of the couple's arrest were removed and placed into custody elsewhere.

The children and the deputy who found the shackled boy are expected to testify.

During questioning, prospective jurors were asked if they knew anything about the case as well as their views on spanking. Prosecutor Danielle Chunn asked the prospective jurors: "How do you discipline your children?" She also wanted to know if they knew anyone who was a victim of child abuse.

Several prospective jurors said they spanked their children when they misbehaved. A few prospective jurors were disqualified when they told the court they couldn't be impartial because they had heard disturbing details of the case in news reports.

Harper sat quietly next to his attorney, Randolph Lee, during jury selection, occasionally whispering to him. At one point, Lee told the judge his client, who is being held on $500,000 bond, wasn't allowed to shave in jail but didn't want to appear disheveled in court. The judge told the sheriff's deputies to allow Harper to shave.

Before jury selection, Lee made a motion to keep Larson jailed for the duration of the trial. Lee said the defense may subpoena her as a witness for Harper. Long approved the request.

Prosecutors have said they, too, might call Larson.

After her arrest, Larson was fired from her county job. Harper also lost his job as an emergency room nurse.