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Locked-up child neglect case delayed for defense review of video surveillance

Becky Campbell • Aug 22, 2017 at 10:18 PM

A plea deadline hearing was rescheduled for a couple accused of keeping a 12-year-old autistic child in a box so defense attorneys have time to review nearly two weeks of surveillance footage recorded inside the house.

Mickey Sparks, 70, and Patricia Laws, 43, were each charged with aggravated child abuse and neglect Feb. 6 after deputies were sent to 151 Miller Crossing Road to check on a child there. During a consensual search of the house, officers came to a bedroom that had a wooden cage that had no top but was padlocked. 

Inside that cage was a girl lying on a small mattress. Deputy Jared Taylor said in a court affidavit that the girl did not appear to be in distress. When he asked Laws about the girl, Laws “explained that the child was autistic and they were able to control the child better by locking her up,” Taylor said.

She referred to this as a safe room. Patricia (Laws) advised this is also where the child slept at night (and Department of Children’s Services) had approved the caged area,” Taylor said.

Sparks and Laws appeared in Washington County Criminal Court on Tuesday for a plea deadline, but Assistant District Attorney General Erin McArdle said she’s waiting for the defense to get at least a one-terabyte hard drive to her so she can copy 10 days of continuous video surveillance. Sparks apparently had a video camera on the box where the girl was often put.

An attorney who handled the preliminary hearing in the case in March said the enclosure was more like a playpen than a cage.

“Everyone keeps calling this a cage, but this looks like a wooden playpen, but it’s bigger,” Assistant Public Defender David Crichton, who handled the case in Sessions Court, said after the March hearing. Photos of the wooden structure, which was homemade, showed slats similar to those of a wooden playpen.

“It’s ridiculous to call it a cage,” he said, and Sparks and Laws used the enclosure to protect the child. There were also video cameras that focused on the room where the girl stayed, which was to help keep up with her.

“They set this up to protect the child and not let her go walking around at night,” Crichton said, but added there was some evidence the girl spent more than 12 hours at a time there on some occasions. He also said the girl attended special education classes at Lamar Elementary School and “there was no injury to the child and no signs of abuse.”

The case was rescheduled until Nov. 3 to allow the defense time to review the video. Sparks and Laws are free on bond while their cases are pending.

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