Lowell couple get 3 years in abuse case

2013-09-04T13:43:00Z 2013-09-05T07:34:03Z Lowell couple get 3 years in abuse caseSusan Brown susan.brown@nwi.com, (219) 662-5325 nwitimes.com
September 04, 2013 1:43 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | Prosecutors agreed to dismiss 14 of 16 felony counts against a Lowell couple accused of beating the woman's teenage son with horse whips and straps.

The couple pleaded guilty last month to two counts of neglecting the woman's 14-year-old biological son.

On Wednesday, defense attorneys also agreed the couple's disciplining of the boy went beyond acceptable, prompting Lake Criminal Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. to hand the couple a three-year prison sentence to be served in community corrections programs.

The victim, now 16, who has been diagnosed as suffering a behavioral disorder, testified the couple deserved punishment.

The boy's stepfather, Vernon Widner, and biological mother, Tina Widner, had been charged in December 2011 with 16 felony counts of criminal confinement, battery, intimidation, neglect of a dependent and strangulation.

At the time, police said the boy came to their attention when the couple reported the boy a frequent runaway. When found, the boy told authorities he had been beaten, caged, starved and kept from going to school.

In the plea agreement with Lake County prosecutors, the couple admitted striking the boy with horse whips and straps between August 2008 and January 2011. They further admitted the boy had been limited to one meal a day and withdrawn from school.

"This is a very difficult case," deputy prosecuting attorney Michelle Jatkiewicz said in arguing for four-year sentences with at least a year of incarceration.

Jatkiewicz argued the punishment dealt the boy far exceeded what is acceptable, dealing the harshest criticism to Tina Widner, 42, for failing to protect her son.

Defense attorney Steven Mullins represented Vernon Widner, 56.

Mullins argued the case involved "discipline that got way out of hand."

He spoke to the couple's loss of any relationship with Widner's son. They also face the potential loss of parental rights of a 5-year-old daughter.

"They unfortunately crossed the line," said attorney Andreas Kyres in defending Tina Widner, 42. "Tina is extremely remorseful."

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