FORT WAYNE – In April, the little girl told her therapist that 29-year-old Jason Morlan kicked her repeatedly in the no-no with his cowboy boots.
Last October, the girl’s 4-year-old older sister was admitted to a hospital with fluid in her head and bruises of varying ages on her brain. Both girls had bruises all over their bodies.
Through interviews and examinations, and disclosures from them and another child in the home, it became clear that Morlan had abused the children.
He and his girlfriend, 26-year-old Christa Shaffer-Schuchman, were each charged with multiple counts of Class B felony neglect of a dependent causing serious bodily injury.
Morlan was also charged with Class B felony battery, accused of inflicting the injuries on the young girls.
On Friday morning, Morlan pleaded guilty to neglecting them, but the charge of beating them was dismissed.
A little more than month ago, Shaffer-Schuchman, the mother of the children, also pleaded guilty, to two less-serious charges of neglect of a dependent causing injury, charges added by prosecutors near the time of her guilty plea.
According to court documents, the case came to light when paramedics responded to a report of an unconscious 4-year-old at their home. When she was examined at the hospital, they found the head injuries.
Shaffer-Schuchman said the girl had had trouble sleeping through the night.
Morlan’s sister was taking care of the younger girl while the others were at the hospital and found the bruising all over her genital area while giving her a bath. The girl also had bruising around her jaw line, according to court documents.
When she asked Morlan about it, he said the girl had fallen down the stairs. Morlan’s sister didn’t believe him and, worried about the injuries, called paramedics.
Eventually, the girls were removed from the home, and Morlan and Shaffer-Schuchman gave a variety of explanations for how the girls sustained their injuries – kids at school had kicked them, they had fallen down the stairs or they had fallen in the toilet.
The adults said they had been the primary caregivers for the children, with the exception of a stint in jail a few months before the discovery of the abuse.
Though the children initially offered tentative explanations – maybe I fell down the stairs, or maybe I bumped into something – over time they described a situation quite different.
According to court documents, they told interviewers and counselors they had been whipped with switches, belts or bamboo rods and kicked with boots.
Under the terms of the plea agreement signed by Morlan on Friday, he will be sentenced to 10 years in prison on each count, with the sentences to be served at the same time and followed by three years of probation.
The charge of Class B felony battery will be dismissed.
Shaffer-Schuchman’s sentence will be left to the discretion of the judge this month, according to court documents.