Rebecca Trebilcock sobbed Tuesday as a Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge convicted her and her husband of starving two of their five adopted children.
Before a courtroom packed with state officials, attorneys, reporters and supporters of the Trebilcock family, Judge Michael Evans declared that the Longview couple had nearly starved their then 13-year-old adopted son to death and denied a significant amount of food to his biological sister, who was 12 when she and her adopted siblings were seized by the state last year.
Evans found the Trebilcocks, both 45, guilty of first-degree criminal mistreatment against the boy and third-degree criminal mistreatment against his sister. Prosecutor James Smith said the couple face between four and five years in prison. Their sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 23.
Prosecutors alleged that the Trebilcocks also denied food to three other adopted girls, all originally from Haiti. Evans, however, ruled there is not enough evidence to prove the girls had been criminally mistreated and acquitted the Trebilcocks of those charges. All five of the children are now in foster homes.
The verdict follows a two-week bench trial that drew national attention and included, by Evans' tally, the testimony of nearly 50 witnesses, including more than a dozen medical experts as well as police officers, social workers, dietitians and the Trebilcocks' neighbors, coworkers and children.
The case, Evans said before delivering his verdict, "strikes to the heart of our society. We're talking about families. We're talking about parents and we're talking about children."
Throughout the trial, the Trebilcocks denied starving any of their children.
Evans said that after reviewing the evidence he believes the Trebilcocks were reckless and criminally negligent, but did not act in malice. "I think the Trebilcocks love their children. I don't think there's any question of that," Evans said.
But the judge said Rebecca and Jeffrey Trebilcock, both of whom have struggled with obesity, appear to have developed a "warped" and "twisted" view of food. The Trebilcock's adopted children testified that they were not allowed to eat breakfast unless their chores were done and that their parents severely punished them for wetting their beds or other violations of the family rules.
"Food was used as a carrot and also a punishment," Evans said. "This combination of food and punishment and accidents and disobedience all got wrapped up together."
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Much of the trial focused on the Trebilcocks' alleged mistreatment of the 13-year-old boy. He weighted 49 pounds — about half the weight of a normal 13-year-old — and was suffering from hypothermia, severe eczema and an alarmingly low heart rate when Rebecca Trebilcock took him to a local pediatrician on March 1, 2011. The boy, who was described as near death, was immediately admitted to a Portland hospital where doctors noted he was wasting away like a cancer patient. His body, one expert testified, had grown a peach-fuzz-like layer of hair to stay warm because it had no fat.
The boy also had four broken ribs. The Trebilcocks said he fell out of a truck, but Evans said Tuesday that the true cause of the injury will probably never be known. What's sure, he said, is that such injuries are terribly painful and the boy, despite his suffering, was not promptly treated.
"The question is, why didn't somebody notice that (the boy) was really hurting?" Evans asked. "Why wasn't he taken to a doctor to address those issues?"
The boy quickly gained weight in foster care and has recovered, although he will never be normal in size, authorities said.
On the opening day of the trial, the boy, now 14, described a regime of bizarre and cruel treatment at the hands of his parents. He said they forced him to wash his clothes and bedsheets in a bucket if he wet the bed. He said he wasn't allowed to use the bathroom at night, but the Trebilcocks made him drink his own urine if he relieved himself in a cup in his bedroom. The boy said he was made to stand on the porch in cold weather. If he cried about it, he said Rebecca Trebilcock splashed cold water on him. The boy also said he wasn't allowed to wear shoes on the family property and resorted to eating dog and goat food to nourish himself.
The Trebilcocks' other adopted children, particularly the boy's biological sister, testified to similar treatment, although its severity varied according to the child describing it.
Evans addressed several but not all of the allegations Tuesday, saying some sounded credible while dismissing others. The judge sometimes took a sympathetic tone. He said the Trebilcocks "ran an orderly home," which is necessary when "you have a large family." In addition, Evans said, the boy probably suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome and "reactive attachment disorder," which made him sometimes obstinate and difficult to handle.
What was particularly damning, though, were growth charts, some of them kept in a journal by Rebecca Trebilcock, which Evans said showed both a fixation on food and that the boy and his sister were underweight. For example, Evans noted the 12-year-old girl gained only 11 pounds between 2004 and 2011 — the seven years she lived with the Trebilcocks. She gained 25 pounds last year in just five months after she was placed in a foster home, he said.
Following the verdict, the Trebilcocks, who remain free pending sentencing, hunkered near an elevator, staring at the door for what must have seemed like an eternity as a phalanx of television news cameras closed in behind them and reporters barked questions at their backs.
The Trebilcocks declined to comment.