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A Pennsylvania woman was convicted of a slew of charges in the death of her fiancé's 12-year-old son on Tuesday, which will likely result in her spending the rest of her life behind bars.
Kimberly Maurer, 37, was found guilty of murder, first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, second-degree endangering the welfare of a child and second-degree conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child in the 2020 death of Maxwell Schollenberger, 12, according to court records reviewed by Oxygen.com. Her victim was the son of her fiancé, Scott Schollenberger, 43, who pleaded guilty to those charges on Feb. 10, according to the Lebanon Daily News.
The couple lived together with five children besides Maxwell, according to the Daily News, including two biological children of Maurer and three children the two reportedly had together, PennLive reported. The family had just adopted a puppy named Nala, and the two adults gave their other children toys, snacks, clothes, a flatscreen TV and well-furnished living spaces.
That was reportedly not the case for Maxwell.
Maurer and Schollenberger had, according to a statement from prosecutors, been the primary care providers for Maxwell since the age of 2, when Schollenberger was awarded full legal custody, PennLive reported. Maxwell's mother, Sara Coon, and his maternal grandparents alleged in a lawsuit against the county that the grandparents witnessed problems almost immediately after the transfer of custody.
In 2010, Maxwell's grandmother said that Maurer had admitted to beating Maxwell as part of her efforts to toilet train him: She allegedly admitted to hitting him with a large metal spoon and isolating him for long periods of time if he pooped anywhere but the toilet. (Prosecutors presented evidence from Maurer's social media accounts of her anger with Maxwell during the toilet training process, and Schollenberger testified at her trial that, in retrospect, he realized that Maurer's methods of discipline were part of the problem, the Daily News reported.)
In 2011, Maxwell's maternal grandparents said they visited him again and found him standing in a corner, naked from the waist down, and covered in visible bruises and scrapes. When they confronted Maurer and Schollenberger about the injuries to the boy, who was around 3 years old at the time, they were allegedly told they could no longer visit Maxwell.
The lawsuit filed by Coons and her parents alleges that the grandmother called the county three times in 2015 to complain about Maxwell potentially being abused but that no investigation was conducted. The county said that in the first two calls, the grandmother only asked for the boy's whereabouts and didn't make any abuse allegations. In the third call, they said she said she suspected abuse but didn't share information on the boy potentially being held captive and then didn't contact them again for five years. The lawsuit was dismissed in November 2021, PennLive reported.
The family's neighbors reportedly didn't even know of Maxwell's existence until after he died, the PennLive reported; prosecutors say the young boy was never enrolled in school, was not taken to a doctor after Schollenberger received full custody of him, and he did not receive any psychological care for his alleged bathroom problems.
Instead, on May 26, 2020, a neighbor, Rhonnda Bentz, called police to report that Maurer was worried that Schollenberger was about to kill himself, the Daily News reported.
"She's tracking him on his phone," Bentz said in a recorded 911 call prosecutors played for the jury last week "His phone is turned off. There's a location in Blue Marsh, and she said his gun is missing."
Maurer, who had discovered that Maxwell had died, had removed her other children from the residence before having the neighbor call 911; Schollenberger was found with his gun in the park by police and taken into custody on suspicion of suicidal intentions, the Daily News reported.
When Lebanon detectives interviewed him at the hospital, he told them: "I was gonna join him," he responded, according to the Daily News.
"No listen, I don't want to be alive," he added.
Shortly after noon that day, police went to Schollenberger and Maurer's home and, upon finding Maxwell's body, called detectives to the scene, prosecutors said at the time of the couple's arrest.
Maxwell Schollenberger's body was in a room with no lights and no furniture other than a soiled bed; the room was secured shut with hook-and-eye locks installed on the exterior doorframe and shutters, louvres closed, screwed into the window frames, according to authorities.
"The bed itself was soaked in and soiled with feces," prosecutors said in their statement. "Detectives found moldy feces under the mattress and on the floor, around the bed itself."
Maxwell was naked and lying on his side, according to the statement; testimony said the only other item in the room was a plate of French fries and chicken tenders and a cup with "a little water," according to the Daily News; it was unclear when the food had been placed in the room.
Maxwell weighed only 47.5 pounds and was only 50 inches tall at the time of his death, which is about half the weight of a normal 12-year-old, and 8.7 inches shorter than the 50 percentile of height for boys of that age.
Medical experts testified at Maurer's trial that his medical condition would have been obvious to any observer.
"He'd look incredibly thin, had no fat on his bones," Dr. Lori Frasier, medical director for the center for the protection of children at Penn State Health, testified, according to the Daily News. "He wasn't moving, wasn't able to stand, wasn't able to do any bodily functions."
"There is no doubt in the last few weeks of Max's life that he was very, very impaired," she added.
An autopsy found that Maxwell's muscles had completely atrophied, he had weakened bones and there was evidence of hemorrhaging and internal bleeding. The medical examiner determined that he died of "blunt force trauma complicating starvation and malnutrition."
At trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Maxwell had a broken eye socket; both Schollenberger and Maurer denied causing it, according to the Daily News.
Maurer's defense claimed at trial that she was victimized by Schollenberger, who she claimed was an abusive alcoholic who monitored her movements and refused to allow her a say in Maxwell's care, according PennLive. She told police and said in messages to friends before Maxwell's death that she'd tried to feed "the a**hole," but the child refused, according to the Daily News.
The jury, which only took an hour to convict her, disagreed.
Maurer is due back in court for sentencing on June 1. The charges on which she has been convicted carry a mandatory life sentence.
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