How Could You? Hall of Shame-Russian and Guatemala Adoptive Parents Martin and Kathleen O’Brien UPDATED
This will be an archive of heinous actions by those involved in child welfare, foster care and adoption. We forewarn you that these are deeply disturbing stories that may involve sex abuse, murder, kidnapping and other horrendous actions.
From Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, international adoptive parents Martin and Kathleen O’Brien, both 49, “each face 10 felony counts of physically abusing their six adopted children after being accused of offenses ranging from spraying the kids with pepper spray to making them stand naked in the snow” and “seven additional misdemeanor counts of being party to a crime of disorderly conduct. If convicted of all felony counts, each would face a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.”
The Town of Bloomfield Police Department was notified Aug. 3 by the Walworth County Department of Health and Social Services that children adopted by the O’Briens were reporting abuse by their parents. Four of the six adopted children are siblings from the former Soviet Union.
The six adopted children range in age from 9 to 17. The couple have two biological sons.
The 17-count criminal complaint details different instances and types of abuse that it alleges occurred in the couple’s home at N2128 Clover Road. The couple, either independently or together, are accused of:
— Stripping the children naked as part of punishment.
— Dragging the children by their arms while the children were naked.
— Kicking the children in the groin.
— Spraying the children in the face and on the neck and chest with pepper spray.
— Bending a child’s arm into a “compliance-type” arm bar.
— Hitting the children with a stick.
— Slapping the children in the face.
— Stabbing one child in the hand with a knife.
— Grabbing children by the throat and lifting them off the ground.
— Striking children in the groin with a knee.
— Picking one child off the floor by an ear causing the ear to tear and bleed.
— Striking children with a ruler.
— Placing one child in a “bin” while Martin O’Brien struck the outside of the bin with a log.
— Striking one child in the chest with a flashlight
— Forcing the adopted children to eat frozen loaves of bread off the floor before bedtime while the biological children watched.
— Forcing the children to stand naked in the snow three to four times a year.
— Locking the children in a bedroom for four to five days at a time.
— Beating the children with a belt.
— Choking one child because of a prayer he said.
The complaints indicate that the incidents occurred between Jan. 1, 2004, and Dec. 31, 2011. The children reported the abuse Aug. 3, 2011. The complaint does not say where the children are now.
Court records indicate the O’Briens were released Friday on $10,000 signature bonds after initial appearances. The court ordered that the O’Briens have no contact with the children unless court-ordered in an accompanying Child in Need of Protection or Services case.
Walworth County Judge James Carlson scheduled a preliminary hearing for the O’Briens at 2:30 p.m. Friday, July 6.”
[Gazette Extra 5/19/12 by Stan Millam]
“They also allegedly forced the children to stand naked and kneel in sharp rocks as punishment.
Authorities say they found notebooks in the home that detailed the punishments.”
[Today’s MJ4 5/21/12 by Michelle Richards]
REFORM Puzzle Pieces
Update: Russian Media identifies these children as Russian adoptees. Homestudy agency remains unnamed. It is not known at this time whether this was an independent or agency adoption.
“Sadly, another case of the abuse of Russian Orphans has come to light in the United States and has come to the attention of the Russian Foreign Ministry. According to child protective services workers and professionals with knowledge of the case the level of abuse amounted to what could be called torture and had been going on continuously since 2004.
This time the case revolves around a couple from the state of Wisconsin in the US, whose own children are reported to also have taken part in the abuse of the Russian adoptees. The couple, Martin and Kathleen O’Brien, had been considered to be ideal parents by neighbors, although some have reported that sometimes they noticed odd things. The mother, Kathleen, is even reported to have received an award from the State of Wisconsin for being an exemplary mother. Sadly this was all a farce.
The four Russian foster children, victims of abuse that had been going on for eight years, are now between the ages of 12 and 19 and have been taken from the O’Brian family and placed in protective custody. However their exact location was not revealed by the Department of Social and Child Protective Services.
The parents are facing 17 charges detailed in an 11 page complaint of abuse with the next hearing scheduled for July 6th.
The Russian Foreign Ministry Commissioner for Human Rights, Konstantin Dolgov said that the complaint includes charges that the children were regularly beaten, were victims of suffocation, and that the foster parents even used tear gas on them.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has called on the U.S. authorities to thoroughly investigate the case and to pass fair judgment, something which has clearly not been done in the past where even in recent history parents have gotten off with a slap on the wrist for charges including the murder of a Russian orphan.
The Foreign Ministry Commissioner of the Russian Federation for Human Rights, Konstantin Dolgov stated that Russia views this case with extreme indignation, as another case of infringement on the rights of minors in the U.S. and call for a thorough investigation to be completed, and the perpetrators to be brought to justice and face punishment commensurate with the gravity of their deeds.
The facts and the charges in the case are sickening and are coming in from various sources. According to the police report the O’Briens forced the children to kneel on sharp stones in a yard full of dog excrement and stay there for six or seven hours in the cold and even to stand naked in the cold for extended periods.
Investigators have also found a dairy[sic] belonging to the O’Brien woman which she had kept for many years and where she methodically and in detail described the punishments she subjugated the children to. Why she would keep such a diary is a cause for argument and can only be known to her but it points to the fact that she knew exactly what she was doing and continued to do it, these were not blind fits of rage. Was she proud of her horrible abuse? Did she get some sort of sadistic pleasure from humiliating and torturing these children and then go back and read about her deeds again and again?
Sadly for the children the US legal system was extremely slow in responding. Even in a country where they will take away children from their parents for the slightest offense it took over 9 months for charges to be brought against the O’Briens. According to the police the children complained about their treatment in August of 2011 but it was not until this May that the charges were brought. Was this because they were Russian?
In a country now used to such cases was this just more of the same for them? Did they believe the children were lying? If that is the case what redress do children have in the United States? What can we do to stop cases like this from happening? Or is it impossible?
In a country so steeped in violence: where children are accustomed to an endless torrent of violence on television, including the cartoons they watch and where over 400 murders are shown an hour, where people rejoice when other people are executed, where they openly joyfully call for the bombing and killing of the peoples of other countries if the government says there is a reason (no matter what it may be), where the people support and applaud a president engaged in the extra-judicial executions of (even American) citizens, where the violence and tension are so over-hyped and provoked by the police and the “authorities” who see themselves as engaged in a “war” against the citizenry, where everyone has a gun, where rampant racism and social injustice are the norm…. is there any hope for small defenseless children and will their cries be heard?”
[The Voice of Russia 6/6/12 by John Robles]
Update 2: “A Wisconsin judge has commenced the trial of a married US couple who are charged with abusing their adopted children, including those they had adopted from Russia.
The judge ruled that the prosecutors had gathered sufficient evidence to prove the guilt of Kathleen and Martin O’Brien, who are accused of abusing their adopted children.
It has been alleged, among other things, that on one occasion Mr O’Brien and his own son held down one of the adopted children while Kathleen was hitting the latter in the groin and then sprayed pepper gas into the boy’s face.”
[The Voice of Russia 7/7/12]
A public search of Wisconsin case records reveals that Martin and Kathleen will be arraigned on 7/31/12. The number of counts against them have changed from the initial media report. Martin currently has the following charges against him:7 H felony counts of Child Abuse-Intentionally Cause Harm and 5 misdemeanor B counts of disorderly conduct. Kathleen currently has the following charges against her: 4 H felony counts of Child Abuse-Intentionally Cause Harm and 7 misdemeanor B counts of disorderly conduct.
Update 3: “Kathleen O’Brien has been charged with four felony counts of child abuse and eight counts of disorderly conduct [one misdemeanor has been added since 7/7/12]; Martin O’Brien is facing six felony counts of child abuse and six counts of disorderly conduct. [A change of 1 less felony and 1 more misdemeanor since 7/7/12]
Making the most of a court appearance, Kathleen O’Brien changed attorneys. She and her husband, Martin, also requested a new judge be assigned to their case.
Their children told a social worker the couple would strike them, spray them with pepper spray, even stab one of them with a pocket knife.
More than once, the kids claim their parents made adopted kids stand naked on an enclosed porch while the biological family ate dinner inside.
The news of what’s alleged to have happened in that home has sent shockwaves through that rural community.
Neighbors are now watching this case closely and waiting for answers.
Neighbor Lynne Marquette would often see and speak to the O’Brien children on walks. She came to court to watch the case play out.
“I couldn’t believe some of those things. We had no idea,” said Marquette.
Neighbors will have to wait a little longer. The O’Briens await a new judge and a new court date.
The couple could spend decades in prison.
Their children were removed from the home last year.”
[620 WTMJ 7/31/12]
Even Russian News is reporting this case in real time, though some of their details are not quite correct. U.S. Foster Parents Charged Over Abuse of Russian Children [RIA Novosti 8/1/12] Each adoptive parent (Russia likes to refer to all adoptive parents as foster parents)has 12 counts against them for a total of 24, not 17. We double-checked the public court case records. It appears that there is contention over “hearsay” and the judge allowed that as part of the preliminary hearing. Perhaps this is why they are asking for a new judge? Their attorneys tried to get most charges dropped in early July without success.
“Judge John Race ordered a different judge be appointed and continued the case. No date for future proceedings was set.”
“At Tuesday’s proceeding, it was announced that Kathleen O’Brien had a new attorney, Pamela S. Moorshead of Glendale. She replaces Stephen R. Kramer, who represented her during the preliminary hearing.
Martin O’Brien continues to be represented by Kathleen B. Stilling of Brookfield.”
[Gazette Extra 8/1/12 by Stan Milam]
Update 4: New article goes into extreme detail about the alleged abuse.
“Last summer, while taking a walk, Lynne Marquette came upon a girl in front of a neighbor’s home attempting to shove a dull push mower through a swath of thick, long grass.
Marquette was bewildered. She had lived in the vicinity for 39 years and she knew the couple that lived in the home – Tim and Kathleen O’Brien – owned a riding mower. Why, she wondered, would this child be out on such a blistering day attempting to accomplish what appeared to be an impossible task?
“She doesn’t look at me. She doesn’t smile. She doesn’t wave,” Marquette said this week.
“It just wasn’t natural,” she said. “I thought, ‘Something isn’t right.’ ”
A few weeks later, in early August 2011, child protective services took custody of five of the O’Briens’ six adopted children – three of them siblings from Russia.
Another adopted child, a sister of the three Russian siblings, had been handed $200 and told to leave the house when she turned 18, according to investigative reports.
The O’Briens were charged in May with 11 felony counts of child abuse and 12 misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct involving their adopted children.
The allegations come at delicate time.
On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s office announced that he has ratified a long-awaited agreement with the United States that tightens the rules for U.S. citizens adopting Russian children.
“Not every international adoption ends happily,” the office of Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, said in a statement. “According to official data only, 19 Russian children died at the hands of U.S. citizens over the last 10 years.”
The O’Briens, according to a criminal complaint filed in May, have four biological children. They adopted six children beginning in 2004. The physical abuse charges involve three of the children: a Russian-born boy who is now 18, a Russian-born boy who is now 13 and an American-born boy who is now 14.
While these three children were, according to the complaint, beaten, stabbed, kicked in the groin, slapped, beaten and doused with pepper spray, it was the treatment that the adopted children experienced as a group that seem most cruel.
While executing a search warrant last summer, investigators found the bedroom used by two of the O’Briens’ biological sons still living at home.
The room was messy, the closet overflowing and the floor cluttered with clothes. The room contained two flat screen televisions and several game systems.
The adopted boys were housed in another bedroom and the adopted girls in another. The rooms did not contain televisions or game systems. The closets and dressers contained few clothes.
The 18-year-old told police that the O’Briens would make the six adopted kids stand naked on an enclosed back porch as the biological family ate dinner, the complaint says.
Forced to stand naked
The O’Briens’ oldest biological daughter told authorities that the adopted children were stripped and forced to stand naked in front of her and her siblings. The children said the parents made fun of them and told them they should go back to Russia.
The 18-year-old told authorities that the adopted kids were often hungry and were punished differently than the biological children.
For example, he said, one of the adopted children was caught stealing food. Kathleen O’Brien threw several loaves of frozen bread on the floor and ordered all six adopted children to eat the bread before they could go to bed, the complaint says.
The 18-year-old told authorities that the children were sometimes punished by being forced to stand barefoot in the snow, by being locked together in a room for days at a time, by being forced to kneel on sharp rocks or by being told to stand in the sun in the dog pen among the dog feces.
Court records filed with the complaint paint a household divided into the biological family and the adopted children.
The 18-year-old told authorities that the adopted children were not allowed to read books or go to school, that during the summer, while the O’Briens’ biological children came and went as they pleased, the adopted children were not allowed into the house during the day, according to an investigative report.
One of the children said that when they were outside, they had to work. They were not allowed to use the family pool.
One of the children told authorities that Kathleen O’Brien would slap them across their faces as many times as their age. The children got to pick out which hand they were slapped with, the report says.
A child told authorities that if one adopted child broke a rule, all six were punished. In the winter, they would be give parts of the family’s large driveway to shovel. If one child tried to help another child shovel an assigned spot, both would be forced to remove their shoes and socks and stand in the snow.
It is clear from the investigative reports that the O’Briens have had several contacts with Walworth County child protective services since 2008.
State law requires child welfare agencies to file a public notice when a child dies, suffers a serious injury or endures an egregious incident. The law also requires that the agency file a report within 90 days detailing what services the family was being provided, what contacts the agency had with the family, what reports the agency received regarding the family and when action was taken in response to those reports.
The Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services did not file an egregious incident report in the O’Brien case until the Journal Sentinel contacted the state Department of Children and Families, which ordered the county to do so.
While it has been almost a year since the children were removed from the O’Brien home, the county has yet to file the follow-up report required by law.
A Russian television network has been covering the early stages of the O’Brien case.
Boris Koltov, a Russian television reporter, told a local reporter that Russians cannot understand “why American families with children of their own adopt Russian children and then mistreat them.”
Russia is a major source of adopted children in the U.S. It was the third-largest source of foreign adoption by Americans in 2011, trailing China and Ethiopia.
But Russian adoptions have slowed since April 2010, when an American adoptive mother sent her 7-year-old son to Russia with a one-way ticket and a letter that said he was violent, disruptive and she didn’t want to be his mother anymore.
Some Russian officials called for a halt to all American adoptions. The adoption of Russian children by Americans became a political flash point.
While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed an adoption agreement between the two nations last year, Putin’s approval was pointedly slow in coming.
As for Marquette, who showed up at Walworth County Circuit Court on Tuesday for a minor hearing in the O’Brien case, the international ramifications are distant rumblings.
“These children lived nearby,” she said.
“They were neighbors.”
[Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 8/1/12 by Crocker Stephenson]
Update 5: Martin and Kathleen pleaded not guilty “to severely abusing their six adopted children – three of whom came from Russia.” From Update 4, it appears that 2 of the Russian adoptees and one US adoptee are the children that were abused.
Their next court date is November 21, 2012 for pre-trial requests.
“The couple has four children of their own, plus the six they adopted.
The adopted children told authorities that the O’Briens made them kneel on sharp rocks, stand barefoot in snow, and not read or go to school – while the biological children were treated much better.”
“Also, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had said Walworth County had not filed a required report with the state about the case until the paper asked state officials about it.
Meanwhile, the O’Briens remain free on signature bonds.”
Update 6: “The case against a Lake Geneva couple facing felony charges of abusing their adopted Russian children is on hold.
Walworth County Judge James Carlson on Wednesday granted a defense motion to halt the proceedings pending a decision by the District 2 Court of Appeals, which could take months.
Kathleen O’Brien, 50, and her 50-year-old husband Martin O’Brien, are charged with multiple counts of felony child abuse and misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
The charges relate to abuses to adopted Russian children.
The O’Briens appealed a ruling that the defense could not compel one of the children to testify at the preliminary hearing.
During a hearing Wednesday, Carlson ruled on several motions challenging the 17-count complaint and information. The defense argued that the charges are vague as to when the charged crimes occurred and that the statute of limitations has expired on the misdemeanor charges.
Carlson said he had a problem with some of the timeframes. Prosecutor Diane Donohoo said she would file clarifying charges. Carlson dismissed three counts, but gave Donohoo an opportunity to correct any deficiencies.
Donohoo cited case law that gives prosecutors some leeway in cases involving child victims. “We are dealing with young children, ongoing abuse and some of the children have been home schooled and isolated,” Donohoo said. “They simply can’t give us exact dates.”
[Gazette Extra 11/21/12 by Stan Millam]
Update 7/April 23, 2013
As per request of our commenter, we have searched the Wisconsin public court case files to find an update to this case.
On January 8, 2013, there was an order “Granting Motion to Stay Court Proceedings pending Court of Appeals decision on the Defendant’s Interlocutory Appeal.” on Martin’s record
On February 21, 2013, there was an order “Requiring Amended Information Narrowing Dates for Counts #1 through #14” on both Martin and Kathleen’s record.
Kathleen had 3 of her 8 counts of disorderly conduct (misdemeanor B) dismissed on Prosecutor’s motion February 21, 2013. These charges remain: Four Felony H counts of Child Abuse-Intentionally Cause Harm and 5 counts of disorderly conduct.
Martin had 3 counts of disorderly conduct (misdemeanor B) dismissed on Prosecutor’s motion February 21, 2013. These charges remain: Six Felony H counts of Child Abuse-Intentionally Cause Harm and 3 counts of disorderly conduct.
Their cases are still classified as OPEN.
Update 8/July 11, 2013
Another search of Wisconsin public court case files to find an update to this case reveals that on May 29, 2013 there was a memorandum from the State regarding letter from the Court added to both of their records. Their cases remain OPEN.
Update 9/September 4, 2014
Another search of Wisconsin public court case files to find an update to this case reveals that Martin and Kathleen are scheduled on 10/1/2014 for an arraignment.
Update 10/ October 29,2014:
Another search of Wisconsin public court case files to find an update to this case reveals that Martin and Kathleen on 9/29/14 filed a “Motion to dismiss Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss or Narrow Charging Period for Counts 4, 5, and 8 of the Amended Information and on 10/9/14 there was a state’s Response to Motion to Dismiss or Narrow Charging Period” This case is still OPEN.
Update 11:Thank you to the readers who have said that the trial is ongoing! “A Lake Geneva couple accused of abusing their children told at least one adopted child that if he or she told anyone about the abuse, the child would be sent back to his or her respective country, Judge James Carlson said Tuesday.
Kathleen and Martin O’Brien were charged in May 2012 with a combined 23 felony and misdemeanor charges of abusing their six children—some adopted from Guatemala and the former Soviet Union. Accusations range from spraying the children with pepper spray to making them stand outside shoeless in the winter
In September, attorneys for the O’Briens filed motions to dismiss or modify five charges, saying prosecutors were too vague about when the crimes supposedly happened.
Carlson denied the motions Tuesday, and the O’Briens pleaded not guilty to the remaining charges.
Kathleen, 52, pleaded not guilty to four felony counts of child abuse and one misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct. Martin, 52, pleaded not guilty to six felony counts of child abuse.
Several of Kathleen’s and Martin’s original felony and misdemeanor charges were dismissed or dropped before September, according to an amended criminal complaint and court records.
The recently challenged charges accuse Martin of kneeing a then 8-to-10-year-old in the genitals and picking up a then 5-to-6-year-old by the neck. Kathleen’s charges allege she tore the ear of a then 7-year-old and hit the hand a then 10-to-11-year-old for taking pudding.
The attorneys argued the prosecution has plenty of information gathered during the investigation to narrow the charging periods.
A binder filled with more than 3,000 pages of interviews, psychological evaluations and medical visits was repeatedly referenced in court.
“The state, having seen virtually every document generated about this family over the past 10 years—a total of more than 3,500 pages—has every tool at its disposal to narrow the charging period,” defense attorney Kathleen Stilling wrote in one motion.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Stilling and Kathleen Quinn, defense attorneys for the O’Briens, spent more than an hour questioning Bloomfield police investigator Lori Domino, who has led the investigation for more than three years. They questioned why she couldn’t narrow the charging dates.
One charge could be narrowed, the others could not because time frames gathered from interviews with two of the O’Briens’ adopted children do not match entirely.
The O’Briens remain free on signature bonds and will appear in court at 1:15 p.m. April 13 at the Walworth County Judicial Center.”
Kathleen and Martin O’Brien plead not guilty to child abuse charges[Walworth County Today 12/2/14 by Andrea Anderson]
“A 17-year-old boy from Guatemala told a jury that his adoptive Lake Geneva parents physically and emotionally abused him and his five adopted siblings for years by making them stand naked, not feeding them and locking them in a bedroom.
The teenager testified Monday in Walworth County Court that Martin and Kathleen O’Brien punished the adopted children by making them stand naked by the dining room table in front of the biological O’Brien children, who laughed at them.
The adopted children, who are from Russia and Guatemala, also were locked in a bedroom and given a bucket to urinate in, the teenager testified.
“It’d be left in the room until we were unlocked and let out,” the boy said of the bucket.
Kathleen and Martin O’Brien were charged in May 2012 with a combined 23 felony and misdemeanor charges of abusing the children. The charges have since dwindled.
Kathleen pleaded not guilty in December to four felony counts of party to physical abuse of a child and misdemeanor party to disorderly conduct.
Martin pleaded not guilty to six felony counts of party to physical abuse of a child.
Among numerous other accusations brought up in opening statements Monday—the second day in a 16-day trial—were picking up one male child by the neck, cutting a child’s palm with a knife, kneeing the 17-year-old in the genitals and spraying a now 20-year-old with pepper spray.
One girl, who was 10 years old at the time, suffered swollen feet after standing barefoot outside in winter for 30 minutes, the 17-year-old said Monday.
The alleged punishments were the result of the children either taking food from the kitchen because they were hungry, not doing chores or answering a question incorrectly, according to the boy and prosecutor Diane Donohoo.
The boy also testified that, at one point, he opened a window in the biological sons’ bedroom because he was curious. He said Kathleen forced him go outside and kneel on the concrete until Martin put a several-gallon bucket over the boy, forced the boy to the ground and took a thick branch and hit the bin “(hard) enough to leave a bruise on my head.”
The couple’s attorneys argued Monday that their actions are being misconstrued. [Are you kidding me?]They said the accusations are rooted in the adopted children’s difficulty adjusting to the O’Briens’ regimented household and their inability to emotionally escape their difficult lives in Russia or Guatemala.
Martin’s attorney, Kathleen Stilling, described the couple as loving parents who tried to create a welcoming environment for the kids, who spoke no English and had nutritional issues. But the children ultimately rejected the O’Briens as parents and didn’t do household chores the biological children were also required to do, she said.
“These children’s lives were very much directed by the life they had,” Stilling said.
Kathleen’s attorney, Kathleen Quinn, piggy-backed on Stilling’s argument, saying the case is about a herd mentality cultivated by the now 20-year-old male, who threatened Kathleen and scared the other adopted children.
The boy, who ran away more than a dozen times from the O’Briens and was found delinquent for behavioral issues at school, was the first child to disclose the issues leading to the investigation.
He manipulated the other children into thinking they were slaves to the O’Briens and were being treated unfairly, Stilling said.
He also told the other children to tell Kathleen they didn’t love her and she wasn’t their mom, Quinn said.
“For months and then years, she was being circled by a herd,” Quinn said of Kathleen, who defense attorneys say reached out to therapists and social services to help the family handle the difficult situations.
Part of Donohoo’s argument includes criticism of the Walworth County Health and Human Services Department, which she accuses of repeatedly ignoring reports from school officials and a social worker about alleged events at the O’Briens’ home.
The 20-year-old’s social worker filed a complaint with the department that was ignored, Donohoo said, and the social worker ultimately told the juvenile to keep running away until someone listened.”
Opening statements made in Lake Geneva child abuse trial [Gazette Extra 7/13/15 by Andrea Anderson]
“The much-anticipated child abuse trial of Martin and Kathleen O’Brien, a Wisconsin couple arrested in 2012 on charges of physically abusing children they adopted from Russia and Guatemala, finally opened last week with graphic details of the adoptive parents’ horrifying cruelty right out of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale.
The O’Briens have pleaded not guilty to the distressing charges, claiming that they are the real victims of a “herd” of foreign children who refused to adapt to their American ways, becoming uncontrollable and frightening to the O’Briens’ own biological children.
The case came to light in the summer of 2011 when a longtime neighbor of the O’Briens witnessed one of the adopted girls struggling to push a hand-operated lawnmower through tall grass on a blistering hot day, when the neighbor knew that the O’Brien family owned a riding mower.
The girl did not smile, wave, or acknowledge the neighbor in any way. Just a few weeks later, after an investigation, Child Protective Services removed five of six adopted children from the O’Briens’ home.
Prosecutors at the long-delayed trial on Monday laid out what investigators found, based in part on accusations by the older adopted children, one of whom is now 20.
In their opening statements, prosecuting attorneys detailed “discipline” of the adopted kids that included forcing them to strip naked in the dining room while the couple’s biological children laughed at them, forcing one girl to stand barefoot outdoors on a freezing winter day until her feet swelled severely, slicing one child’s hand with a knife and dousing another with pepper spray.
The offenses for which these “punishments” were meted out, the prosecutors said, included taking food from the kitchen without permission, failure to do chores and answering questions posed by the parents incorrectly.
In other instances, according to the charges, the adopted kids were kneed in the groin, slapped, beaten, stabbed and locked in their bedroom for prolonged periods and not allowed out for any reason, being forced to urinate in a bucket and given no food.
The defense laywers, however, said that the adopted children were manipulated into rebelling against their “welcoming” adoptive parents by the oldest of the group, who convinced the others that the O’Briens were enslaving them.
The kids simply did not adjust to the strictly regimented way that the O’Brien couple chose to run their household, the lawyers said.
But prosecutor Diane Donohoo said in court that a social worker for the oldest child filed a complaint with the Walworth County Health and Human Services Department about the abuse Martin and Kathleen O’Brien were inflicting on their adopted children, but that complaint and numerous others, including from school officials, went ignored.
In a similar case in March, a Michigan couple was charged with starving their adopted son and locking him in a basement with repeated beatings for several years, keeping the boy separate from their biological children.
The trial of Martin and Kathleen O’Brien is expected to run through July 31.”
Update 12: Thank you to commenter Ellen for sharing this article! “A Walworth County jury delivered guilty verdicts Wednesday on seven out of 10 counts against a Lake Geneva couple accused of child abuse.
As the judge read the verdicts, some of the couple’s adopted children sat in the front pew as members of their new families sat behind them with their arms stretched out to rub their shoulders and backs.
Sighs and sobs were audible. Tears were visible.
The defendants, Martin and Kathleen O’Brien, showed little emotion and stared at the judge as the verdicts were read.
After about 10 hours of deliberation over two days, the jury of eight women and four men found the O’Briens guilty on six counts of party to child abuse and one count of party to disorderly conduct and not guilty on three counts of party to child abuse.
A day-and-a-half of closings came to an end Tuesday with prosecutor Diane Donohoo telling the 12-person jury it was time for the underdogs to be heard.
“When David finally took on Goliath, he had his slingshot,” Donohoo said.
“They had the truth,” she said referring to three of the adopted children, “and the truth is finally here in this courtroom. And there is only one truth: Kathleen O’Brien and Martin O’Brien, those two defendants, are guilty.”
The O’Briens were charged in May 2012 with a combined 23 felony and misdemeanor charges of abusing their six adopted children from Russia and Guatemala. Some of the counts were dismissed. The remaining focused on three male children.
Martin pleaded not guilty in December to five felony counts of party to physical abuse of a child.
Kathleen pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of party to physical abuse of a child and misdemeanor party to disorderly conduct.
They also pleaded not guilty to a mutual charge of party to physical abuse of a child.
Both were found guilty Wednesday on the mutual child abuse charge.
Martin also was convicted on three counts of party to physical abuse of a child, and Kathleen was convicted on two counts of party to physical abuse of a child and one count of party to disorderly conduct.
During her portion of closing arguments Tuesday, Kathleen’s attorney Kathleen Quinn started by loudly repeating statements the now 20-year-old adopted son made during the trial.
“Hey, you’re not my mother. I never trusted her as my mother. She was never going to be my mother,” Quinn repeated to the jury. “I never hit her without a reason.”
“Kathleen never stood a chance,” Quinn said.
She told the jury the adopted son was not capable of connecting with his adopted family because of his early childhood in Russia riddled with abuse and alcoholism.
During the trial, the defense depicted the 20-year-old son as a ringleader who was one of the most problematic children. They claimed he scared and threatened the other adopted children into thinking they were treated differently than the O’Briens’ biological children.
By the 20-year-old convincing the others that they were being treated differently, the O’Briens lives were made difficult, the defense claimed.
Quinn echoed Martin’s attorney Kathleen Stilling’s statements made in closings Monday. The two claimed the six adopted children didn’t realize the O’Briens loved them and misconstrued their actions.
“They couldn’t see what the O’Briens felt for them, which was love. They couldn’t see that they were worthy of that love,” Quinn said.
The six adopted children were abused for years, starting shortly after some arrived in the United States, Donohoo said.
The prosecution claimed the O’Briens made the adopted children stand outside in the winter naked for hours and made a then-10-year-old girl stand outside barefoot in the winter for so long her feet swelled and turned purple.
The prosecution also claims the O’Briens made the children eat frozen bread, kneed a now 17-year-old in the groin, locked the children in a bedroom for hours, didn’t feed the six for extended periods and made the children stand naked in front of the four biological children, who laughed at them.
Two biological sons testified to never seeing Martin or Kathleen intentionally harm any child and never saw evidence of intentional abuse. Both sons said Kathleen feared for her life after the 20-year-old threatened to kill her before she sprayed the boy with pepper spray.
Inconsistencies in the adopted children’s statements were reason for a jury not to convict, Stilling argued.
Some charges, the defense said, never happened and were made up by the children because of the herd mentality and influence of people putting the O’Briens in a “bad light,” Quinn said.
The defense’s arguments were smoke and mirrors, Donohoo said, intended to distract the jury from the statements made by the adopted children and other people linked to the case.
Donohoo argued the O’Briens tried to avoid being investigated by police and social workers by pulling the kids from public school and isolating them through homeschooling. This prevented the children from disclosing any incidents and prevented people from noticing any injuries, Donohoo said.
The defense maintained that is inaccurate and the children were pulled for behavioral or educational needs and were still enrolled in various extracurricular activities. The O’Briens also called the police several times after the 20 year-old ran away from home or hurt another child, Quinn said.
The defense did conceded Martin or Kathleen made the children take off their clothes, had them kneel on rocks, locked them in their rooms and spanked them with a belt for bad behavior.
“They were facing enormous challenges with these kids,” Quinn said.
“They did some unorthodox but not abusive things to these kids to try and get some control and in an attempt to truly help these kids because they loved them,” Quinn said.
Martin will face a maximum of 24 years in prison and Kathleen 18 years in prison when they are sentenced at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13, at the Walworth County Judicial Center.
They remain free on bond.”[WHAT????]
Lake Geneva couple accused of child abuse found guilty on seven out of 10 charges [Gazette Extra 7/29/15 by Andrea Anderson]
Update 13: Thank you,again, to commenter Ellen for sharing this article!
“Kathleen M. and Martin P. O’Brien will spend a year in the Walworth County jail for child abuse, followed by three years of supervision by the state Department of Corrections.
Reserve Judge Stephen Simanek handed down the sentences following a three-hour sentencing hearing on Tuesday.
At first, he sentenced each of the O’Briens to two years for each felony count for which they were guilty, to be served concurrently, followed by two years of supervised release.
He said it was difficult for him to come to a decision about sentencing in this case.
Simanek said the O’Briens are both well-educated. Kathleen was a teacher and Martin spent 30 years in the military.
They had no prior problems with the law.
“Frankly, I’ve struggled with this for some time,” he said.
A retired Racine County judge, Simanek said he’s seen cases of child abuse in which children bore the scars of their mistreatment.
The children in the O’Brien home did not suffer those kinds of injuries, Simanek said. But it was clear from hearing their testimony during trial and from the statements two of the O’Briens’ former adopted children made during sentencing that they had suffered psychological damage.
Simanek said it became apparent that the O’Briens tried to maintain their concept of discipline, even when it became apparent that their parenting tactics were not working.
Part of the problem was that both O’Briens’ apparently have controlling personalities, he said.
“The O’Briens were going to make sure they were in control, even to the point where the activity became criminal,” Simanek said.
The O’Briens’ sentence comes with Huber privileges for work, going to class or doing community service.
The two must report to jail by Oct. 23.
“I think this is going to be hard for you,” Simanek said to the O’Briens about the jail sentence. “You are not going to be in control, and up to this point you have done everything to maintain control.”
A Walworth County jury on July 29 found the O’Brien’s, both 52, of Bloomfield, guilty of multiple felony counts for physically abusing their adopted children.
Kathleen O’Brien was convicted of three felony charges of physical abuse of a child and one misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. Martin O’Brien was convicted of four felony charges of physical abuse of a child.
Each felony charge carries a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment and three years of extended supervision.
On the disorderly conduct charge against Kathleen O’Brien, Simanek imposed a 90-day jail sentence, which will run concurrent with the one-year jail sentence.
Martin P. O’Brien and his wife, Kathleen M. O’Brien, were charged with an array of crimes that included using pepper spray on a child, cutting a child on the hand with a knife and striking a child with a wooden ruler.
From testimony at the sentencing hearing and from the trial, it became apparent that the O’Briens had the best intentions for their adopted children, but they seemed to be incapable of carrying them out.
The couple had successfully raised their own four children before adopting two children from Guatemala and four more children from the former Soviet Union.
The O’Briens’ four natural children are grown. The adopted children are on their own or living with other foster families.
Simanek’s ruling tried a hew a line between the O’Briens’ attorneys, Kathleen Quinn for Kathleen O’Brien, and Kathleen Stilling for Martin O’Brien, who argued that prison would not be appropriate, and a presentence report that recommended six years in prison followed by six years supervision for both.
Assistant District Attorney Diane M. Donohoo also called for prison time, although she did not recommend a length of sentence.
“When children are abused for years, prison is called for,” she said.
The oldest child, who was unable to attend the sentencing hearing, wrote to the court that living with the O’Briens’ prepared him for Marine boot camp.
“That is not how a child should be raised,” Donohoo said.
“I am asked, ‘How are the (adopted) children doing,’“ said Donohoo. “It’s too early to tell.” She said it will take a while to see whether the adopted children can overcome the trust and psychological issues that they face.
Quinn and Stilling said the O’Briens got more than they bargained for when they adopted the four youngsters from the former Soviet Union.
Attorneys on both sides conceded that the family dynamics became complicated. The relations between the O’Briens and their adopted children were further complicated by the relationships among their children, both adopted and natural.
Still, they love their children, both natural and adopted, said Stilling.
“They did not adopt these children to abuse them,” she said.
On the other hand, they apparently did not have the tools to deal with the behavioral and psychological problems the youngsters brought with them from their native lands.
Quinn said that Kathleen used pepper spray on the oldest adopted boy during a physical confrontation during which she was knocked down by the 16-year-old.
Daniel Michetti, a family friend, said he knew the O’Briens from church. Michetti said he grew up in an abusive foster home.
“I understand battered and abused children and the baggage they carry,” Michetti said. He said abused children often go into “survival mode,” and do not trust or respond to adult efforts at parenting.
“I do not believe the O’Briens spent a small fortune to adopt these children just to abuse them”, Michetti said.
One of the adopted daughters tearfully testified for the O’Briens, as did one of the O’Briens’ natural sons and Kathleen O’Brien’s mother.
Both O’Briens gave their statements as well.
Both admitted they did not say “I love you,” often enough.
Martin said he loved all his children.
“I thought long and hard about my family and where we went wrong,” he said.
It took a while for Kathleen to compose herself.
She then said she now realized she was not equipped to be a perfect parent.
“I should have been more persistent in saying I love you,” she said.
“Sometimes no good deeds go unpunished,” Simanek said, wrapping up sentencing.
“There are no winners here,” he said. “We cannot make anything good out of what happened.”
Child abusers get year in jail, probation[Lake Geneva News 10/13/15 by Chris Schultz]
God Damn! I don’t CARE if they didn’t intend on making the children “ eat frozen bread, kneed a now 17-year-old in the groin, locked the children in a bedroom for hours, didn’t feed the six for extended periods and made the children stand naked in front of the four biological children, who laughed at them.”when they *adopted* them! They DID do those things to the children and they DESERVE to be punished. A biological family would be crucified for doing these things!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!