EPHRATA (VIDEO)– Robert and Michelle Staats were convicted of starving their child.
Grant County Superior Court Judge Evan Sperline found the Moses Lake couple guilty of criminal mistreatment in the second degree on Wednesday afternoon.
The verdict came about two years after their 2-year-old son suffered a heart attack after roughly a year of failing health. The boy is now 4-years-old and suffers from brain damage.
Sperline explained the attorneys placed a lot of importance on whether the Staats recklessly failed to provide health care to the child, but he didn’t see the case the same way.
“I don’t believe this case is about medical care,” he said. “This child did not suffer this terrible injury because of health care being withheld. He suffered it because he starved. The parents conduct withheld food from this child.”
The professionals who examined the child told the Staats the boy needed food, Sperline said. People told the Staats he needed to go to the hospital to receive food intravenously.
He compared the situation to a parent saying their child can survive on one carrot a day, and as the child loses weight the parent refuses to change the child’s diet.
“Nobody in this courtroom would be arguing about medical care, everybody would be talking about adequate nutrition,” Sperline said. “It would not be a question that a parent that allowed that to happen to a child because of that feeding regiment withheld from the child adequate food.”
The judge said the starvation occurred because the parents clung to their approach that they knew wasn’t adequate. He pointed out the parents tried a lot of options to find a way to get food into the child, but the problem was it wasn’t working and didn’t work for a long time.
“I know that’s not what mom wanted for her child. I know that’s not what dad wanted for his child,” Sperline said. “They’ve made that clear in the way they’ve raised their family, but that’s what happened to this child.”
The decision came after the prosecutors and defense attorneys presented closing arguments.
Prosecutor Angus Lee argued the Staats ignored advice from a nutritionist at the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to take the child to see a doctor. They also ignored the warning from a naturopath physician, who told them the child needed to go to a hospital or see a doctor with more expertise.
The child’s condition became steadily worse until the child started having frequent and bloody vomiting the day before the child’s heart attack, Lee said.
Defense attorneys Stephen Hormel and Doug Phelps argued the Staats never faced a problem like this with any of their other children. Phelps pointed out the statute doesn’t state what is medically necessary.
“Does the law requires all of us to go to the hospital,” he said.
Phelps also pointed out neither the doctors nor the WIC officials reported the child’s condition to Child Protective Services.