‘I only (chained him) so I would know where my son was and that he was safe’
Published 11:20 am Friday, June 17, 2011
By AMANDA LILLIE and JASON SCHOONOVER
Millers admit to mistreating children, plead to be reunited
The mother who chained her 5-year-old son to his bed said she didn’t give her sons enough food because of fears the boys would become obese.
According to court documents, the 5-year-old weighed less than 30 pounds before he was removed from her custody.
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Charity Miller testified in Mower County Court Thursday that her own insecurities with weight caused her actions, and that she needs to seek help if she is to get her two sons back.
“I want to change for my kids, not for me,” she said.
Charity, 26, and her husband, Brian Miller, 33, both took the stand on the third day of the Millers’ termination of parental rights trial. The Millers, of Dexter, pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and malicious punishment of a child on May 12 on the criminal side of the case. They were charged on April 26 with depriving their sons of food and bathroom access; they also chained the 5-year-old to his bed from dinnertime until morning every day, according to a court complaint.
In separate testimonies, the Millers recalled buying the chain at a Fleet Farm in early August 2010, though neither recalled who first fastened the chain to the boy and his crib.
The two admitted to chaining their 5-year-old out of worries he’d rummage through the house and harm himself, noting it was never used as a punishment.
“I only did it so I would know where my son was at and that he was safe,” Charity said.
However, neither parent was able to cite specific items the boy got into, other than to say he’d sifted through drawers, cupboards, the dining room table and the home’s bar.
However, Charity couldn’t remember reprimanding her son after he’d rooted through the home at night.
“I would hear little feet when he was running through the house,” she said, adding she could tell it was not the family’s cats.
While Brian’s father once caught the 5-year-old with a knife, neither Brian or Charity could remember witnessing a similar occurrence first-hand. Both parents said they never thought to move or lock the knives.
Contrasting emotions were evident on the witness stand and in the audience during testimony.
Brian, who took the stand for a second time, began choking up at several points during questioning. He explained his joy when the younger son, who is his only biological child, was born.
“I was the first one to hold him,” he said, his voice breaking. “It was a very happy time.”
Charity also broke into tears during her second time on the stand.
“I want my boys back more than anything,” she said.
Members of the audience audibly scoffed and sighed in response to parts of both Brian and Charity’s testimony.
Testifying also became emotional for Charity’s mother, Pam Rutledge, who took the stand for the first time. Rutledge, who has been named as a possible placement for the children, began crying shortly after her testimony began.
“I don’t want to testify against my daughter,” Rutledge said as she began to cry. “But I love her.”
Charity later stated she felt she was border-line mentally abused and neglected by her mother as a child. She said her mother preferred spending time with friends or at work. Brian described his relationship with his mother-in-law as strained.
Parenting videos were sitting on a table next to Charity. Parenting videos also came up in Brian’s testimony, and he said he bought videos on parenting. He later had trouble recalling the names of the videos, which were on “calm kids” and “brain boosters.”
When questioned by the petitioners, Brian admitted he would lose his temper with the boys.
“I wasn’t always patient,” said Brian, who noted he has worked with a counselor to learn other parenting methods.
According to the Millers, their son rarely voiced opposition to wearing the chain. Charity said he would lift his leg and say “here mommy, I help you.” Brian said the boy would “smile and say, ‘I love you, daddy.’” They briefly stopped using the chain, they said, when the boy began objecting to it.
Charity admitted the 5-year-old would wet the bed and periodically soiled himself, but they were not using diapers.
“At times, he’d be urine-soaked,” she said.
On Wednesday, Detective Steve Sandvik and one other witness spoke of the stench coming from the 5-year-old’s bedroom on April 21, the day the Millers were arrested.
On Thursday, the parents testified they would take the 5-year-old to the bathroom during the night before re-attaching the chain. However, Charity said she believed he often didn’t call out loudly.
“I thought he should have been hollering more if he needed to go,” she said.
Some contradictions arose in court Thursday. When asked about the chain, Brian said the 5-year-old had 7 to 8 inches of slack. But on Wednesday, Sandvik said the boy only had a few inches.
Brian also stated the boy was able to roll over and push the mattress from the bed, a claim later questioned by Judge Fred Wellmann.
Thursday’s testimony painted a picture of the Millers as a couple that mostly kept to themselves and had few close acquaintances outside of work and immediate family.
Both parents denied chaining their 8-year-old son.
“I have never ever chained (him) ever,” Charity said.
But during a recorded interview played Wednesday, the 8-year-old said he hasn’t been chained up in a long time because he doesn’t “get into stuff” anymore.
Both parents acknowledged it was wrong to chain the 5-year-old, but expressed a willingness to seek counseling and parenting advice.
“I didn’t think it was the right thing to do, but at the time I went along with it,” Charity said.
Answering questions from the defense, Brian said he understands now that it is wrong to chain a child.
“I jumped to a stupid conclusion … to use a chain on your child,” he said. “At the time and that, I did it and that to protect him … but I was putting him in more harm with the chain itself.
“In my mind when I was doing it, I wasn’t doing it out of hostility and harm. We both were at our wits end. We realize that’s not something you do to your kids.”
Brian said the day he and Charity were arrested was “a point of intervention.”
During her testimony, Rutledge expressed concern for the well-being of her grandchildren and said she and her ex-husband — who have plans to re-marry — could provide “stability, love (and) care” for the boys.
A representative of the Cherokee Nation testified via conference call Thursday, as well. The Cherokee Nation became involved because of Charity and the older son’s registration in the Tribe.
Tina Youngbear, Tribe child welfare specialist, said she had no objections to the boys being placed with Rutledge if the Millers lose their parental rights.
“For (the 5-year-old boy), I believe at this time (returning him to the Millers) would be likely to result in serious physical and emotional damage,” Youngbear said.
When asked if she believes the 8-year-old would also suffer physical and emotional damage, she said, “Yes.”
Youngbear clarified that the Tribe would like to give first preference to a family member as a placement for the boys.
Testimony was scheduled to resume 9 a.m. Friday, with the petitioners questioning Charity. Brian’s father was also expected to testy.