MADISON, Wis. - Prosecutors have charged the 18-year-old stepbrother of a severely malnourished Madison girl with repeatedly sexually assaulting her beginning around her 10th birthday.
Dane County prosecutors on Thursday also filed felony child abuse and other charges against the 15-year-old girl's father, Chad Chritton, and stepmother, Melinda Drabek-Chritton.
The girl told police the couple had kept her confined to the basement of their Treichel Street home since 2006 and that they beat her, starved her and forced her to eat feces.
The couple is facing charges of first-degree reckless endangerment, intentional child abuse (bodily harm) and child neglect.
Prosecutors said the girl's stepbrother first sexually assaulted her around December 2006, then again from February 2009 to February 2010.
The 18-year-old stepbrother, Joshua P. Drabek, has been charged with first-degree sexual assault of a child under age 13 without great bodily harm, sexual assault of a child under age 16 and intentional child abuse (bodily harm).
A driver spotted the girl Feb. 6 walking barefoot in pajamas near her home on Madison's southeast side and called police. The driver said the teen was so scrawny he mistook her for an 8-year-old.
According to the criminal complaint, the girl fled the house after she was told by her stepmother that if she didn't hurry up and pick up some papers, Drabek-Chritton would take a knife and slit the girl's throat.
The girl weighed just 70 pounds when she was found, and the doctor who examined her determined she was severely malnourished. A doctor who specializes in child abuse examined the teen on Friday and diagnosed her condition as "serial child torture with prolonged exposure to definite starvation," according to the criminal complaint.
The attorney for Drabek-Chritton on Thursday argued for reduced bail.
"She is currently unemployed. She doesn't have any income of her own at this point," said attorney Adam Welch.
But the court commissioner increased Drabek-Chritton's bail to $30,000, citing the severity of the allegations.
"There also appears to have been ongoing sexual abuse at the hands of Joshua Drabek, who lives in the home, with the knowledge of Mr. Chritton along with his now-wife, Melinda Drabek. It also appears this family in the past has not cooperated with either the Department of Human Services or the Madison Police Department in investigations involving similar conduct by Joshua Drabek," said Assistant District Attorney Matt Moeser.
The bail for Chad Chritton was increased slightly as well, and Joshua Drabek will remain in jail on a probation hold.
Complaint Details Abuse Allegations
The criminal complaint is offering more details about the abuse allegations.
The family forced the teen to spend most of her time in the home's basement, without a bathroom, and she received little food, the complaint said.
The complaint said the girl, identified as SLC, told investigators she was mostly confined to the basement because her family members had "trust issues" with her and believed she posed a threat to them.
Chad Chritton told investigators that he had full custody of SLC because her biological mother had married a sex offender in Texas, the complaint said. SLC told police that when she was living in Texas with her mother and stepfather that her stepfather sexually assaulted her "once in a while when (she) was 8," the complaint said.
The complaint said that Chad Chritton told a doctor and a social worker that SLC was locked in the basement with bars on the windows and an alarm on the door so they would know if she tried to get out of the basement. Chad Chritton also told them he has cameras by the pantry to monitor if SLC ate anything because he believed SLC is diabetic and that sugar caused bad behaviors in SLC, the complaint said. No medical doctor has ever told SLC that she has diabetes, the complaint said.
SLC told investigators that when she does go upstairs, she's allowed to eat oatmeal and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, "but that she frequently eats out of the trash or off the floor so as not to set off the alarm," according to the complaint.
SLC confirmed there was no bathroom in the basement and said that she sometimes had to defecate or urinate in containers or on the floor, the complaint said. SLC said she did this because she didn't want to set off the alarm, get anyone upset or wake anyone up by doing upstairs to the bathroom, the complaint said.
The girl said her father and stepmother made her drink her urine "a couple times I think," while she had been forced to eat her feces "lots" -- that she thought it was less than 10 times but couldn't say for sure because she didn't kept track, the complaint said.
The girl told investigators she hadn't urinated or defecated in the basement for awhile because she limits what she drinks so she doesn't have to urinate or defecate too much.
"If I drink water, then I will pee and I don't want to pee in the basement. I'm underweight because I don't eat much. I've always wanted to eat more," SLC told investigators, according to the complaint.
SLC said she doesn't eat more because she doesn't want to set off the alarm and she "doesn't want to ask to eat." She said she usually has to ask permission from Drabek-Chritton to eat, and that her stepmother usually says she's too busy to get her food or berates her, according to the complaint.
The girl told police said she was frightened of Drabek-Chritton and that her stepmother sometimes grabbed her by the throat and squeezed so that it became hard to breathe.
In the complaint, the girl is quoted as saying, "Last month my stepmom told my dad that she was in charge of me and that she is my personal owner. She told me dad that if my dad wants to be married to her he has to give me to her." She also told investigators that Drabek-Chritton wanted to be called "Your Majesty" and "Master."
SLC said that Drabek-Chritton lets her come upstairs to do chores for the family and that sometimes she makes her clean the house while naked so the girl couldn't hide any food in her clothes, the complaint said. When asked why she tried to hide food in her clothes, SLC replied, "Cuz I'm hungry," the complaint said.
Doctors who examined SLC said that given the extreme degree of starvation the girl has suffered, especially over the course of the past 30 days in which she rarely, if ever, had access to food, SLC was in an escalating pattern which ultimately could have resulted in death, according to the complaint.
The complaint said Dr. Barbara Knox, a child abuse pediatrician at the American Family Children's Hospital, examined SLC and diagnosed the girl as suffering from "serial child torture; persistent starvation; isolation; terrorization; physical abuse; sexual abuse; child neglect and symptoms concerning Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder."
The girl said she was threatened and told she would be physically harmed, including killed, on multiple occasions, according to the complaint. Those threats of death have come in the form of statements of strangulation, being killed with a knife and being killed with a gun, the complaint said.
Doctors said that as of Feb. 15, the girl had gained 17 pounds from being allowed regular access to regular feeding.
Protective Services Received Several Allegations Involving Family
State officials said Child Protective Services officials had contact with the family seven times in the past yet at no time was the girl taken into protective custody.
State officials said they can only release a limited amount of information in cases like these, but according to details released by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, in June 2006 and January 2007 there were two Child Protective Services reports alleging sexual abuse that happened in another state. Those incidents were unsubstantiated and the child was determined to be safe.
A couple months later in 2007, the family was investigated again on allegations of sexual abuse and neglect after the girl told a school counselor she was sexually abused. But the girl was unable or unwilling to tell the social worker on the case or the police officer in the interview, so the claims were unsubstantiated and the girl was deemed safe.
In June 2009, Child Protective Services made contact with the family, and this time the Dane County Department of Human Services referred the family to a community service provider, but it's not clear what that provider did or if the family ever made contact.
In September 2009, another report of alleged neglect was made, and again the family was referred to a community service provider, who did make contact with the family.
The most recent allegations of neglect were in March 2011, but Child Protective Services determined that the allegations didn't meet the legal definition of abuse or neglect.
Chad Chritton told police he'd sought help from Dane County Human Services for his daughter but had not found a "workable solution."
Stay tuned to WISC-TV and Channel 3000 for continuing coverage.
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