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The Journal Gazette

Friday, November 02, 2018 11:53 am

Therapist testifies during pretrial hearing in neglect case

Matthew LeBlanc | The Journal Gazette

Four siblings of a 2-year-old girl who died in January told a therapist their mother's boyfriend was abusive.

In court Friday, therapist Staci Rader said she has met regularly with each of the children since March. They told her Shane A. Patton often hit them, placed his hand over their mouths and wrapped JoJo Belcher so tightly in blankets she couldn't move when he put her to bed.

Patton, 31, is charged with two counts of neglect in JoJo's death. The girl's mother, Crystal Belcher, 29, also is facing felony neglect charges.

Rader said one of the siblings, a girl, saw her sister change when Belcher started dating Patton.

"She said that JoJo was like a little light and when Shane came into the picture, that light went out," she testified.

Emergency workers were called to the family's East Butler Street home on Jan. 27. They found JoJo wrapped in a blanket and "cold to the touch with rigor mortis," according to court documents.

The girl had been dead for at least two hours, doctors told police. An autopsy revealed a hemorrhage in her neck, and the Allen County coroner said the cause of death was neck compression.

Patton was charged in Allen Superior Court in April, and he was arrested last month. Belcher also was charged in April, and both are being held at the Allen County Jail.

Rader spoke in a hearing in which she was asked whether the children should testify in open court during Belcher's trial, which is scheduled to start Jan. 15. She recommended one testify in open court but told Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Patricia Pikel the others should not because it would be harmful.

Doctors told investigators JoJo had injuries – including forearm fractures that had healed – consistent with abuse, and testimony from the therapist Friday seemed to bolster those claims.

At least two of the children said they were made to stand in awkward positions and sprayed with water or given "a whuppin" if they moved. A boy said his mother often yelled at him and "hated him," Rader said.

Each child said they witnessed Patton being abusive, she said.

"Usually, they were locked in their rooms at bedtime," she said. "I would ask (the girl), 'Where was mom?' and she would say 'sleeping' or 'downstairs on the couch.'"

Belcher posted $60,000 bail shortly after she was arrested, but Gull ordered her back into custody in August after Belcher violated a court order and tried to violate another, according to court records.

Belcher also sought to have evidence gathered by police thrown out, arguing she wasn't read her Miranda rights, was denied an attorney for hours and felt pressured by investigators. Gull rejected her motion to suppress, writing in an Oct. 22 order Belcher waived her Miranda rights and voluntarily spoke to police without an attorney.

Dressed Friday in jail-issued gray-and-white striped clothing, Belcher sat next to her attorney, Samuel Bolinger. She took notes on a white pad of paper but did not speak.

mleblanc@jg.net