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Jury Deciding Locked in Closet Case

January 29, 2002

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DALLAS (AP) _ A jury began deciding the punishment Tuesday for a woman who pleaded guilty to confining her severely malnourished 8-year-old daughter in a filthy closet.

Barbara Atkinson, 30, pleaded guilty last week to a charge of bodily injury to a child. Prosecutors said the girl was nearly dead when she was found last summer in a Hutchins mobile home, weighing only 25 pounds.

The jury can recommend a sentence from five years to life in prison; judges in Texas rarely waver from jury sentencing recommendations.

Closing arguments concluded Tuesday morning in the punishment phase of Atkinson’s trial. Atkinson, 30, and her live-in ex-husband, Kenneth Atkinson, 34, were arrested last June.

``We have seen evil like we never knew that evil existed. This is evil,″ prosecutor Susan Hawk said, pointing at Barbara Atkinson. Hawk asked for a life sentence and described the girl’s nightmarish conditions.

``She laid there naked in her own feces, in her own urine, praying someone might open the door,″ Hawk said.

Defense attorney Brad Lollar said Barbara Atkinson suffered a traumatic childhood and was neglected by her birth mother, a prostitute and drug addict. At age 3, she was placed in an adoptive home where she did not feel loved, Lollar said.

``She is a victimizer and a victim,″ Lollar said.

Dr. J. Douglas Crowder, a psychiatrist, testified Monday that Atkinson’s childhood made it difficult for her to cope. He said Atkinson, who gave up her daughter at birth, later regretted it and thought her own adoptive mother would love her more if she got the baby back.

But when the child was returned because of a legal error by the adoptive parents’ attorney, she misbehaved. Atkinson felt Kenneth Atkinson would leave if she couldn’t control the girl, Crowder said.

During cross-examination by prosecutors, Crowder said Atkinson knew right from wrong, and knowingly put the girl’s life in danger.

Kenneth Atkinson is awaiting trial. He is charged with serious bodily injury to a child and aggravated sexual assault of a child.

The East Texas couple who originally tried to adopt the child at birth is now her foster family and is seeking permanent custody. They say the child has gained weight, enrolled in kindergarten and is doing well.

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