• ‘Fed up’ at abuse, he says, he fled with his sister after years of captivity.
STEPHANIE INNES Citizen Staff Writer
The 13-year-old boy was matter-of-fact as he spoke about Betty Jo Miller’s alleged belt beatings – attacks so hard that the swipes left bruises on his buttocks.
Miller, the live-in girlfriend of the boy’s grandfather, yelled ”bastard,” while she beat him, the child testified in Pima County Superior Court yesterday.
”I was fed up with Betty because she was so mean,” the boy said. ”I was tired of being kept in the room.”
Miller, 58, and her boyfriend, John Pierre Baker, 54, are on trial for multiple counts of child abuse and kidnapping for allegedly holding the boy and his sister virtual prisoners in Baker’s mobile home for six years between 1991 and 1997.
The boy testified for the first time yesterday, describing his years at Baker’s house as a progression of punishments that ended when he and his older sister, who is now 14, escaped May 27, 1997.
The escape resulted in the arrests of Baker, Miller and Miller’s daughter Stacie M. Miller, 27, who last year pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit child abuse for her role in the case.
Stacie Miller this week will complete a one-year jail sentence but will spend the rest of her life on probation, according to terms of her plea agreement.
The boy and his sister moved in with Baker and Betty Jo Miller when the boy was still a toddler. His mother, Annette Weinberg, gave up guardianship of her three children in 1988 because she was imprisoned for arson.
During his years at Baker’s home, the boy came to believe that he was not the same as other children.
He recalled Miller telling him that his mother didn’t want him. The boy also recalled learning from Baker that part of his brain was missing.
Although the room he shared with his sister at one time contained posters, stuffed animals and a carpet, those luxuries disappeared over the years. By 1996, the two children spent most of their days locked in adjoining bedrooms that contained no toys.
They showered and changed their clothes about once a month, the boy said. Under questioning by prosecutor Lynette Kimmins, the boy also said he urinated and defecated in the bedroom because Miller so rarely let them out of the room for bathroom breaks.
Miller ordered the pair not to speak to one another and not to get off their beds, he testified. If they did, they were beaten, the boy said.
The younger sister of the alleged abuse victims, who is expected to testify today, was not subjected to the same treatment as her older siblings, although she never went to school while living with Baker, prosecutors say.
The boy told the court yesterday that he often felt jealous of his younger sister, who was allowed to eat foods he yearned for, such as peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, Kool-Aid, milk and pizza.
He and his sister were allowed only one 4-ounce cup of water at mealtime, the boy said. He testified to sneaking out of the bedroom at night to ”steal” cups of water for himself and his sister.
A fourth child, Stacie Miller’s son, also lived in the home at the time of the alleged abuse. He was born in 1993 and also was not subject to the same treatment as the alleged abuse victims, according to testimony.
Baker believed the two abuse victims were suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome, though no doctor ever confirmed that opinion. He took the children out of public school at Christmas 1991 to educate them at home, yet the boy said he and his sister rarely had any lessons after 1991.
For a treat, the boy said his younger sister held Dr. Seuss books up to a chicken-wire window so that the pair could have something to read.
Other ”treats” included sitting in the living room and watching television with Betty Jo Miller. The boy said he and his sister had to sit in red plastic chairs, and that Miller chose what they watched – usually her favorite shows, such as ”Matlock.”
But most of the time, the children lay on their beds in their bedrooms, their hands folded behind their backs, the boy testified. He recalled one occasion when he got out of his bed to talk to his sister. Miller caught him, and said, ”I told you not to move!”
Miller then beat and bruised him with a belt as she yelled ”bastard,” he testified. She did the same to the boy’s sister, calling the girl a ”bitch” as she struck the child, jurors were told.
At mealtime, the boy and his sister were not allowed to talk. Yet Miller and Baker spoke with the other two children, as well as with Stacie Miller, the boy said.
When the children escaped from the mobile home, they were gaunt and pale, and their teeth were encrusted in plaque, sheriff’s detective Fawn Timmons testified earlier this month.
The girl, who weighed just 72 pounds at the time, gained 24 pounds and grew an inch within six weeks after leaving Baker’s home, according to medical records presented to the court yesterday by University of Arizona pediatric resident Dr. Alyson Eyre.
The girl finished her testimony yesterday, telling the court she initially was extremely frightened by the sheriff’s deputies who picked her up the day after she escaped.
”I was afraid of cops because they never helped me when I needed help,” she told the court.
The girl had tried escaping from Baker’s home on one other occasion, she said. Her brother had attempted to flee several times, but law officers always returned him to Baker and Miller.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Frank Dawley last night denied Baker’s motion for a mistrial and also declined to strike Stacie Miller’s testimony from the record.
Baker had argued that Stacie Miller tainted the trial because her testimony this week differed from what she told the court during her plea agreement last year. Stacie Miller this week said she never hit either alleged victim, although in her plea, she admitted to beating them.
Dawley ruled that prosecutors had not intentionally committed any misconduct with respect to Stacie Miller contradicting herself.
Deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer last night said the prosecution believes Stacie Miller ”chose to present herself in a better light than the evidence would support.”
The trial began Jan. 12 and is expected to continue through the second week of February.
PHOTO MUG CAPTIONS: XAVIER GALLEGOS/Tucson Citizen
Miller listens yesterday.
Baker listens to testimony.