When it comes to child abuse, bystanders who fail to intervene are not immune to prosecution and punishment.
That was the message a Pennsylvania judge sent when she sentenced a mother to almost 30 years in state prison for letting her live-in boyfriend beat and torture her 9-year-old girl.
“Thankfully, it is rare that we see evil done,” Judge Ann Marie Wheatcraft remarked as she delivered the sentence. “In this case we do.”
Loaded words like “evil” and the judge's evident emotion during the hearing are indicative of the way society looks at neglectful caretakers. The district attorney in the case called out “the defendant's depravity.” This should concern any parent living in difficult circumstances.
No one would dispute that the abuse of the child is horrific and was rightly condemned. The girl will live with both the physical and emotional effects of this abuse for the rest of her life. (The perpetrator died of a heart attack in prison in 2021 before final sentencing.)
But pleas for mercy from the attorney representing her mother, Julianne Stacy Lewis, 33, and Lewis' guilty plea, in which she accepted responsibility, did not sway the judge. Neither did the fact that Lewis had no prior criminal record.
“I brought a monster into our lives,” Lewis said. “I am a good person who made serious life-altering mistakes.”
The Legal Duty of Intervention
Pennsylvania law makes no allowances for child abuse—or those who fail to report it. Lewis was convicted of assault, kidnapping of a minor, endangering the welfare of children, and conspiracy.
The conditions for endangering the welfare of a child are broad: simply “violating a duty of care, protection or support.” Conspiracy is equally vague. “Agreeing to” or “aiding in the planning or commission of” a crime will net you a felony charge.
In this case, the abuse was uncovered when police were called to the Westtown home for an unresponsive child. The boyfriend, Dimitrios Moscharis, claimed she collapsed from a panic attack.
Doctors determined the girl had been beaten by a metal rod and suffered brain damage as a result of oxygen deprivation. She spent weeks recovering in the hospital. Prosecutors alleged Lewis had witnessed the abuse for weeks and failed to intervene.
Society's Expectations for Caregivers
There's more than the application of law in this case, though. It's telling that the judge recounted watching an Internet video of a mother throwing herself into a car when thieves tried to steal it with her children inside. Society's expectation is that every parent and caregiver will act equally selflessly, no matter the extenuating circumstances.
In the Pennsylvania case, Lewis will lose years of her life in prison and will be required to report her address to the state police for the rest of her life after release. She is prohibited from unsupervised contact with children and cannot contact her daughter or the girl's new foster family.
The abuse of children doesn't happen in a vacuum; perpetrators and witnesses who don't speak up have lifetimes of experiences leading up to that moment.
If you are looking for a strong advocate, attorney Joseph D. Lento can counsel you on your best path forward. For more information, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.