A 30-year-old suburban Baltimore mother, who was accused of imprisoning her 9-year-old daughter in a bedroom closet for most of the child life, was found guilty today of child abuse and three other related charges.
The woman's husband - the child's stepfather - pleaded guilty to the same four charges today. The child, Patricia Anne Saunders, had been rescued by police last July 5 from a closet 23 inches wide and 52 inches deep that was filled with human filth.
The jury took 58 minutes to reach a verdict of guilty for Linda Faye Burchfield on child abuse, false imprisonment, conspiracy to commit child abuse, and assault charges. Out of the jury's hearing, Judge Lloyd L. Simpkins described the closet where Patty was found as the child's "bedroom, her bathroom, her dining room, her playroom."
Both Mrs. Burchfield and her husband, Billy Floyd Burchfield, 38, who face a total of 30 years in prison on the two main child abuse charges, will be sentences May 27 by Judge Simpkins.
Lt. Lee Peters testified during the 6-day trial in Somerset County Circuit Court that he was able to free Patty from the closet only after he forced Burchfield to push aside a chest that had been jammed against the closet door.
Peters testified that Patty's first words were, "I'm hungry." Patty, whose imprisonment was brought to police attention by a relative, was taken to Franklin Hospital in Baltimore, where doctors diagnosed her as suffering from "extreme malnutrition and dehydration."
Although she was nearly 9-years old and should have weighed a minimum of 50 pounds, doctors said she was about the size of 2-year-old, weighing 20 pounds and standing not quite 3 feet tall.
The trial was moved to this Eastern Shore hamlet because of extensive pretrial publicity about the case, which detective Joyce Chaney of the Baltimore County Police Department's child abuse team described to the jurors as "the worst I have ever seen."
Lt. Peters said that when Burchfield first opened the closet door he say "only a shadow" on the left side. But when Burchfield called, "Come out, Patty," Peters said a child with dark, sunken eyes, yellowing scalp, scarred lips, matted heir and a blue shirt and pants covered with human waste emerged from the darkness. The only objects in the closet beside human waste, he said, were a spoon and a small bowl.
Peters said that when he carried Patty from the second floor bedroom to the living room of the Burchfield's townhouse in suburban Essex, Mrs. Burchfield, who was sitting in the living room wearing bathrobe, said only, "Put her down, she can walk."
Mrs. Burchfield has two other daughters, Donna, 12, and Susan, 11. On the day of Patty's rescue and the Burchfield's arrest, Donna was in the hospital for an abortion. Her stepfather, Burchfield, still faces a charge of statutory rape in connection with that abortion.
During the trial, Susan testified that her sister Patty was kept in the closet night and day, and on the few occasions when she was let out, her stepfather beat her with his fists and a belt, once bloddying her nose and often leaving welts on her buttocks and legs.
Out of the hearing of the jury during his own brief trial, Burchfield told the judge that he was totally responsible for the mistreatment of Patty. "My wife had nothing to do with this: I'm the one who took care of the child," he said.
To the other charges - the Patty had been detained against her will, treated inhumanely, assaulted "with every indication of attempt to injure" and that neither he nor his wife complained to authorities - Burchfield, in the clipped manner befitting the 20-year Army veteran, repeatedly replied, "Yes sir."
Mrs. Burchfield had testified that she bore Patty as the result of a rape and that, as a result, she "couldn't stand her," and found it "unbearable" to be near the child.
Defense Attorney Robert P. Mann, of Towson, told the jury that Mrs. Burchfield was herself the product of "a very unpleasant childhood." He said she had been given away by her parents when she was 1-month-old and never had the "security" of a formal adoption. Her foster mother beat her during drunken spress, her father allegedly raped her when she was 6, and she was raped again by another man at age 12, the attorney said.
As an adult, her "history of abnormal relationships" continued Mann said, bearing three children before her 21st birthday by perhaps two different men, and drinking and using drugs excessively. She married Burchfield, a career army mess sergeant, in 1969. The couple moved to the Baltimore area after Burchfield's honorable discharge early last year.
Although psychiatrists who examined both husband and wife at the state hospital following their arrest last summer said that both were sane, one psychiatrist hired by the defense testified that Mrs. Burchfield was "a latent schizophrenic."
Peters said he visited Patty two weeks ago in her foster home in Reisterstown and found her "extremely happy.
"When she first came into the room I didn' recognize her, she had grown so much," Peters said. "It was unbelievable."
In the nine months since Peters carried Patty away from her closet prison, she has gained 30 pounds, grown 7 inches and started going to school for the first time, he said.