A mother and stepfather who were convicted of imprisoning their 9-year-old daughter in a tiny closet for most of her life were sentenced respectively to 32 and 40 years in prison yesterday by a Somerset County, Md. judge.
Circuit Court Judge Lloyd L. Simpkins said he gave Billy Floyd Burchfield, 33, a sentence eight years longer than that given his wife because he had told his probation officer, "Given the opportunity under the same circumstances, I would do the same thing again."
"I doubt if any of us has read or heard of a case where the abuse is this bad," Judge Simpkins told the child's mother, Linda Burchfield. "You and your husband have all but destroyed the child's life . . . If the abuse had been any more severe, we would be here on other charges - charges of homicide, probably."
Part of the couple's punishment should ideally include "confinement in a small closet," Judge Simpkins said. "She (the child) was denied most of the things most of us take for granted, including things most of us give our dog."
The couple was arrested last July 5 after Baltimore County police, tipped off by a relative of the child, found the tiny, filth-smeared girl locked in a man-high closet 23 inches wide and 52 inches deep. The closet had been barricaded by a chest of drawers.
At the time of her rescue, the child, then nearly 9, weighed 20 pounds and stood less than three feet tall. The police officer who found her described the child in court as having dark, sunken eyes, yellowing scalp, scarred lips, and matted hair.
Her shirt and pants were covered with human excrement, Lt. Lee Peters testified during the trial. The only objects found in the closet with her were a spoon and a small bowl, he said.
Peters testified that as he carried the child from the second-floor bedroom closet to the living room in the Burchfield's Baltimore County town house, Mrs. Burchfield's had told him, "Put her down, she can walk."
During Mrs. Bruchfield's six-day trial, another of her daughters, testified that on the few occasions when the 9-year-old was let out of her closet-prison, Bill Floyd Burchfield beat her with his fists and belt, often leaving bruises on her buttocks and legs.
On the day of the rescue, another sister, age 12, was in a hospital for an abortion. Testimony at the trial indicated that Burchfield had had sexual relations with that child for four years. Statutory rape charges against Burchfield were dropped at the request of the state's attorney.
Both Burchfield and his wife had been charged with child abuse, conspiracy to commit child abuse, false imprisonment, and assault. Burchfield was convicted on all charges by Judge Simpkins. Mrs. Burchfield was convicted on the same charges on April 25 by a jury that deliberated for 58 minutes before reaching a verdict. The trial had been moved from Baltimore because of massive pretrial publicity about the case.
The three children are now in foster homes, according to authorities. The 9-year-old now weighs 40 pounds and her health appears to be improving, according to at least one official.