Psychologist: ‘They’re very fearful’

Published 11:41 am Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Charity and Brian Miller walk out of the courthouse with their lawyer after day one of their parental rights termination trial Tuesday. -- Amanda Lillie/

An Olmsted Medical Center psychologist said Tuesday that the 5-year-old boy who was chained to his bed at night and his 8-year-old brother should not return to their parents’ home.

Dr. Marcia Guertin was one of many witnesses during the first day of Charity and Brian Miller’s termination of parental rights trial.

Charity Miller, 26, and Brian Miller, 33, pleaded guilty to to false imprisonment and malicious punishment of a child on May 12 on the criminal side of the case.

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During Guertin’s testimony, she said the 8-year-old boy has made it “very clear” he does not want contact with his parents and wants an apology from them for chaining him. Both parents have denied ever chaining the older son and have only admitted to chaining the 5-year-old to his bed at night to “keep him from getting into things.”

“They’re very fearful,” Guertin said of the boys. “I would not see (living with the parents) in their interest at this time.”

Speaking about the younger child, Guertin said, “There are a number of issues he has with safety and knowing he’ll be safe on an ongoing basis. (His parents) broke that trust with him.”

The boys’ foster mother, who has been caring for them since April 21, also said the boys seem anxious and afraid.

“I can’t shut the bedroom door when they’re in there,” the foster mother said. “They’re afraid of being alone.”

She explained some of the boys’ behavior over the last two months, saying they won’t get out of bed until they ask her permission.

“Food is somewhat of an obsession,” she added. “It’s the first thing they want when they get out of bed in the morning and the last thing they want at night.”

The Millers have been accused of withholding food and bathroom access from the boys. But Brian, stammering through much of his testimony, said food was always a priority despite financial difficulties.

“We have financial burdens, but food we put first,” he said. “When (the boys) were in our home, when they were hungry, we fed them. We ate normal meals like any family.”

Lynn Baldus, a Grand Meadow Elementary School first-grade teacher, testified that she tried to report the Millers to Mower County Human Services on Dec. 15, 2010.

“I was concerned that maybe (the 8-year-old) was not getting enough food,” Baldus said.

She said the boy had been caught taking food off other students’ lunch trays and out of their bags at snack time. After a while, Baldus began to suspect malnutrition.

Wearing a melon-colored T-shirt and dark slacks, an unsmiling Charity told the court the boys were always given food when they were hungry.

“If they asked for food, they got it,” she said. “We’ve brought up (their small size) with their pediatricians and there’s never been any concern.”

Very little new information was gleaned from the parents’ testimony, although Brian said he now acknowledges that the chain could have caused his son physical pain.

“It was not my objective to punish him with it,” he said. “We can’t be using a chain — that’s wrong.”

The Millers will be in court again for most of the day Wednesday as the termination of parental rights trial wraps up. The detective and social services worker who have been working the case are expected to testify Wednesday.