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Couple Convicted of Mismanaging, Not Abusing Huge Adopted Family

November 23, 1995

SISTERS, Ore. (AP) _ First lauded then scorned for adopting dozens of troubled children, Diane and Dennis Nason reflected on a trial that found they didn’t abuse their ``Celebration Family,″ only mismanaged it.

``It was two people who maybe were trying to do an impossible task,″ Mrs. Nason said of the 84 children they adopted. ``My heart was bigger than it should have been. ... It was hard saying no to another child.″

Capping a yearlong trial, jurors Wednesday didn’t convict the couple on the most serious charges: three counts of manslaughter in the deaths of children who died in their beds _ one from starvation and two from a form of dysentery _ and allegations they used cattle prods and beatings for discipline.

While her husband was acquitted of those charges, the jury deadlocked on one of the manslaughter counts against Mrs. Nason. The couple was convicted of one count of racketeering and nine counts of forgery.

On the racketeering count, the jury found the couple guilty only of forging documents to adopt more children and Mrs. Nason guilty of obstructing a state investigation into a dysentery outbreak.

The Nasons face from probation to 20 years in prison when they return for sentencing Feb. 6.

The couple raised their adopted clan _ in addition to six biological children _ in a 33-room farmhouse built by donations with a spectacular view of the Cascade Range.

The prosecution argued that the Nasons adopted more and more children to make more money in donations and state payments. The defense countered that they were guilty only of doing their best to help children no one else wanted, children who were already in poor health when they arrived.

Many of the children came from Third World counties and suffered from physical, mental and emotional disabilities. The family earned awards for their efforts and CBS’ ``60 Minutes,″ profiled how the children, even those with disabilities, helped do chores.

But the family began breaking down as financial support dwindled and Mrs. Nason’s health declined. She began finding other homes for many of the children. Police and social workers began investigating allegations of abuse raised by some of the adopted children.

The state took custody of 12 adopted and biological children still living with them, but the Nasons won back custody of three biological children and a grandson they adopted.

They sold the farmhouse to pay legal fees, and it is now a high-priced school for troubled girls.

Summing up the case, prosecutor Michael Dugan said: ``What started out with a good heart and a good mind ended up with disastrous effects on the children.″

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