Judge ends parents' rights in starved boy case

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A judge has terminated the parental rights of a Minnesota couple accused of starving their 8-year-old adopted son, calling him the victim of preventable circumstances.

The boy was severely malnourished and weighed less than 35 pounds when his mother brought him to a Mankato hospital last October because she thought he had vomited blood. Authorities said he was 3 feet, 5 inches tall, and about the weight of an average 4-year-old. She told hospital staff he had been regurgitating and re-swallowing his food, and that his unusual behaviors also included eating food from their compost pile.

Nicollet County District Judge Todd Westphal wrote in his order, dated Wednesday, that he wasn't convinced that Mona and Russell Hauer, of North Mankato, meant to starve the boy. But he said he was troubled by their failure to get him the necessary medical and psychological care for his eating and other psychological issues. The judge decided not to terminate the Hauers' parental rights to their other three children, but they'll be subject to more proceedings to see what help the family needs.

The couple's attorney, Jason Kohlmeyer, said Thursday they're devastated by the ruling. He said they'll need to decide within 20 days whether to appeal.

"They'll do some praying on it, we'll do some talking on it and we'll see what happens," Kohlmeyer said.

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The Hauers still face a criminal trial in June on felony counts that include child neglect, child endangerment and malicious punishment of a child. They have pleaded not guilty.

The Hauers had a biological child of their own before they adopted the boy and his two other siblings in 2008, after Dakota County authorities terminated the birth parents' parental rights, Westphal noted. The boy's biological father had physically abused him, causing multiple broken bones and other serious injuries.

The judge wrote that the boy's condition last October ``was the result of a `perfect storm' of unfortunate and, to a large extent, preventable circumstances." He said the abuse in his birth home and the boy's resulting psychological problems "made him a 'ripe' candidate for what eventually occurred.

He said the Hauers failed to follow professional advice on services he needed and how to address behavioral challenges. He also faulted them for their ``aversion to traditional health care beliefs and practices,'' and said their ``highly moralistic'' efforts to correct his behavior were the opposite of what he needed.

"The end result finds (the boy) in a near fatal state of malnourishment," he said, while the Hauers were at their "wits end" in trying to deal with him.

Westphal wrote he was sad that his order once again "leaves him without adults that he can call mom and dad." The boy has been with foster parents since getting out of the Mayo Clinic last November, the judge wrote, and they've indicated a willingness to adopt him. His eating habits seem normal, his growth is catching up and he's attending second grade, he said.