Woman who abused her grandson faces 10 years in prison

January 27, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

A woman faces 10 years in prison after pleading guilty yesterday to withholding food from her 6-year-old grandson, who weighed just 24 pounds when authorities found him.

Yvonne Johnson also beat her grandson, Maurice Royster, and forced him to spend nights alone in the basement of her West Baltimore rowhouse, prosecutor Julie A. Drake said during a hearing yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court.

"The basement is unfinished, cold, dark and cement, unlit except for a single light bulb and infested by roaches and rats," Ms. Drake said. "Maurice told police he could hear rats running around the basement when he slept at night. He said he was scared but he didn't cry."

The prosecutor said a psychologist determined the child is suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and is obsessed with food and rats. "Indeed, for months after his rescue Maurice made rat noises and made comments like, 'The rats are my friends,' " Ms. Drake told the court.

The boy, now 7, has gained 20 pounds since he was placed into foster care last July, Ms. Drake said. She said the boy is attending school in his residential treatment center.

The 47-year-old grandmother had faced up to 38 years in prison after being indicted on two counts of child abuse, two counts of battery, reckless endangerment and child neglect.

She pleaded guilty yesterday to one count of child abuse in exchange for a sentence not to exceed 10 years.

Judge Elsbeth L. Bothe told the woman she will probably get all 10 years at her March 23 sentencing hearing. The judge, saying the woman will certainly do time, ordered the woman to surrender on Feb. 15, when her $50,000 bail will be revoked.

The woman's live-in boyfriend, 55-year-old James Carroll, is being held in lieu of $1 million bail on similar charges.

Ms. Drake said no trial date has been set for Mr. Carroll.

The two were charged in July after Johnson's twin 14-year-old daughters, who also lived in the house in the 1500 block of N. Payson St., reported the abuse to police. A family member has said the grandmother was given custody of the child because Maurice's mother had a drug problem.

Police described young Maurice, then a first-grader at Matthew A. Henson Elementary School, as resembling a Third World poster child. He weighed less than half the average weight of boys his height and age.

During the hearing yesterday Johnson repeatedly tested the patience of Judge Bothe by refusing to admit she had done anything more than beat the child.

The grandmother, who appeared in court with purple hair, said the boy's emaciated condition was due to a cold.

Just as the judge was about to reject the plea agreement and order the woman to stand trial, Johnson admitted to the charges.

Asked why she did it, Johnson said, "Judge, I don't know. I wonder about that sometimes myself. . . . I'm sorry, judge. I'm sorry for Maurice. I wish I could apologize to him."

Her lawyer, Kirk R. Osborn, asked for a psychiatric evaluation pending sentencing. He said she was shot in the face by , ,TC former boyfriend in 1973, leaving her with a steel plate in her head, a glass eye and "a bullet roaming around in her head."

"That may have had some impact on her behavior in this case," the defense lawyer said.

Judge Bothe noted that the boy had been placed into the custody of the grandmother by social services officials and by court order. After the grandmother said no social workers had ever visited the home after she gained custody of the child, the judge said, "I hope they haven't made many more mistakes like this."

Ms. Drake, the prosecutor, said one reason she offered a plea bargain to Johnson was to prevent Maurice from having to undergo the trauma of testifying at a trial. The prosecutor said she supports pending legislation in Annapolis that would allow psychiatrists and other professionals to relay hearsay testimony on behalf of their young patients.

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