Prosecutors: Girl Was Kept in Closet for Years

The 8-year-old girl who was locked in a closet and severely malnourished was kept in the confined space for four years, not four months as originally thought, a prosecutor testified during a custody hearing today.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Lunden said that the girl was kept in a "closet, attic or small room" since 1997. Also, the girl's five siblings were told to lie about her existence, he said.

Judge Cheryl Lee Shannon was expected to decide whether her siblings should be placed with relatives or left in foster homes under the custody of Child Protective Services.

The 8-year-old was locked in a closet and weighed only 25 pounds when she was rescued earlier this month from her home in Hutchins, located south of Dallas. The girl is hospitalized at Children's Medical Center in Dallas.

Kept in a Filthy Closet; Evidence of Sexual Abuse

Authorities said she was imprisoned in a urine- and feces-contaminated closet. Police also are investigating evidence that the girl was sexually abused.

Her mother, Barbara Atkinson, and the girl's stepfather, Kenneth Ray Atkinson, were arrested last week on charges of injury to a child, a felony that carries a prison term from five to 99 years.

Both remain at the Dallas County Jail. Barbara Atkinson was being held in lieu of $100,000 bond. Police said her husband faces charges of probation violation in Ellis County and would not be released on bond.

Kenneth Atkinson attended today's hearing, wearing white jail overalls. He answered a few questions, saying little and asserting his Fifth Amendment rights. He was returned to the Dallas County jail shortly afterward.

Bill and Sabrina Kavanaugh of Canton, who tried to adopt the girl when she was born but lost custody when the birth mother changed her mind and wanted the baby back, asked for a home study from CPS as part of their attempts to seek custody of the girl.

Several dozen relatives of the Kavanaughs attended the hearing. Most wore buttons with a photo of the girl chubby-cheeked and smiling on her first birthday.

Relatives of Children Request Visits

Also, various relatives requested visitation with the other children.

Billy Bowers, of Jasper, said he is wants visitation rights with one of the youngsters, a 5-year-old girl. He said he never married Barbara Atkinson, but is the biological father of that child.

"I'm worried about her. I don't know what happened to her," Bowers said. He has not seen the girl in a year.

Bowers, 38, is a single father of four other children. He also has requested a home study.

The Kavanaughs have been undergoing psychological evaluations and other tests with CPS officials. If approved for temporary custody, they'll attend six to eight weeks of classes that teach foster parents how to deal with mentally challenged children.

Barbara Atkinson's attorney said last week that her client will voluntarily give up her parental rights to the 8-year-old girl in favor of the Kavanaughs, if approved by Shannon and CPS.

CPS spokeswoman Stacey Ladd said the 8-year-old's biological father would have to be located and terminate his parental rights before adoption proceedings could be completed.