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The adoptive parents of an Alabama high school student, who force-fed the boy hot sauce, dumped salt on his open wounds, and held him captive in a basement, were handed two-year prison sentences last week.
Richard and Cynthia Kelly, 60 and 51, respectively, were sentenced in Jefferson County Court on Thursday for locking adopted son Ethan Kelly in their home’s concrete basement, starving him, and beating him with wooden paddles, AL.com reported.
In his testimony, 18-year-old Ethan recalled in horrifying detail how he nearly died and was at one point hospitalized. He was adopted by the couple years earlier.
“They told me I was a bad child,” Ethan told the court, according to AL.com. “They told me no one loved me or would ever love me.”
In November 2016, when he was 14, Kelly was brought to a local hospital by his parents. He was malnourished, unable to talk, drooling, had tremors, and Richard Kelly had used duct tape to cover a wound on his knee, police said.
“There was a chance Ethan would not make it,” medical staff told detectives, AL.com reported. The teenager reportedly weighed 55 pounds at the time.
The couple was arrested after hospital staff notified authorities of the child’s grave condition. The Kellys pleaded guilty to aggravated child abuse in December 2019, according to CBS affiliate WIAT.
"His body was failing in all of the critical ways that keep us alive,'' Children’s of Alabama physician Dr. Melissa Peters testified, AL.com reported. “He was essentially dying.”
While searching the family’s home, investigators located Ethan’s makeshift and barren bedroom in the basement, according to AL.com. The lone item in the space was a dirty box spring mattress. The room, outfitted with two locks, was also alarmed. A broken surveillance camera was also found inside the quarters.
"It all changed when I saw Ethan’s bedroom,'' Det. Sean Boczar said in court. “I had to second-guess myself that someone was actually living in that room.”
Ethan’s bathroom trips were monitored, investigators said. Sometimes he was forced to use a litterbox, and other times was provided with diapers, they added.
From age 11 until his removal from the home, Ethan Kelly spent up to 23 hours a day imprisoned in the tiny room.
“I cried every night and prayed for Jesus to end it all,” he said in court, WBMA-LD reported. “I’m not who I used to be. I’m not even who I was supposed to be. I lived the story of Cinderella with no happy ending.”
Richard and Cynthia Kelly argued that they had confined the child to his room because of his destructive tendencies, blaming him for destroying bookshelves and a stereo.
The couple’s adopted daughter, Tamara, as well as another adopted son, Jacob Evan, also lived in the residence at the time of the abuse. The couple insisted they often let Ethan leave their home for his sister’s cheerleading competitions, football games, and other activities.
Now a high school senior, Ethan is living in a foster home. In court, he forgave his former captors.
"Even though you’ll never say, ‘I’m sorry,'’ he told the Kellys, “I forgive you."
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