Lowell couple accused of abusing teenager, locking him in family's dog kennel

2011-12-16T00:00:00Z 2011-12-16T01:15:03Z Lowell couple accused of abusing teenager, locking him in family's dog kennelBy Bill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
December 16, 2011 12:00 am  • 

CROWN POINT | A defense lawyer for a Lowell-area woman accused of locking her son in a dog kennel said she eventually will be exonerated.

Crown Point lawyer Walter J. Alvarez, who is representing 40-year-old Tina Graham, said police and state child service investigators should be more skeptical of claims being made by a 14-year-old that his mother and her fiance beat, caged and starved him.

"Investigation in this case, in my opinion, was not as thorough as it should have been, and I believe it is totally unjust that without corroborative evidence to support this young man, who has had certain emotional problems since he was a youth, a parent should be arrested," Alvarez said in a written statement after Graham was freed on bond.

"Otherwise, every child in the United States can go around making accusations about their parents, resulting in ultimately having their parents arrested."

Graham and Vernon D. Widner, 55, of the 12000 block of West 162nd Avenue near Lowell, are charged with 16 felony counts alleging criminal confinement, battery, intimidation, neglect of a dependent and strangulation of Graham's 14-year-old son.

The Lake County prosecutor's office, county police and the Indiana Department of Child Services allege the teenager provided them with credible testimony of abuse.

The couple have denied abusing either the teenage boy or his siblings, a probable cause affidavit filed in Lake Criminal Court states.

Police said the boy came to their attention about a year ago when the couple called officers to their home to report him as a frequent runaway. Police said once they found the boy, he told them he was fleeing abuse.

He said his mother and her fiance had forced him to remove his clothes for severe beatings; locked him repeatedly in a dog kennel, once for an entire day; forced him to take extremely hot showers; and poured bleach into his bathwater.

The Lake County prosecutor and police allege the couple denied the boy regular meals when he was in sixth grade, forcing him to steal food from school.

Police said the couple removed the boy from Lowell Middle School in January, telling school officials they would home-school him, although the boy said he received no education there.

The boy told police Widner beat him with a horsewhip and a belt, pulled a knife on the boy, threatened to cut off his genitals, pointed a loaded gun at his head and and threatened to shoot him.

Police said a neighbor saw Widner hit the boy in the summer of 2010.

An Indiana Department of Children Services investigator conducted a surprise visit at the couple's home in February and spoke with the couple and the boy's juvenile sister. They reportedly denied any child abuse or neglect, although the sister appeared nervous and spoke in a monotonal voice.

The investigator reportedly found and photographed a dog kennel matching the boy's description and couldn't find any evidence the boy was taking part in an alternative education arrangement.

The couple face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted.

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