A Jackson County judge acquitted a Kansas City couple Tuesday morning of assault and child endangerment in the alleged confinement of an 8-year-old girl.
Judge Robert M. Schieber called the case against Jeffrey A. Kraft and Michele L. Kraft “difficult,” but said that prosecutors had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the couple had intended to injure the girl.
“I don’t see it,” Schieber said. “The Krafts did what they could (for the child) under the circumstances.”
Prosecutors charged the Krafts in July 2012 after authorities found the girl in her bedroom, which had been locked from the outside.
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Police reported that the girl was scrubbing the floor with bleach “because she had to urinate in the room” and appeared to be malnourished, court records said. Trash and a strong odor of urine also was present in the room.
The Krafts had been the girl’s legal guardians since 2008, when her biological mother gave up caring for her and her younger sister.
Though the girl at the center of the case suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, Schieber said an expert witness could not say whether it was caused by the Krafts or from earlier moving “from household to household with a mother with mental health issues.”
The 8-year-old girl who allegedly was abused did not testify during the bench trial. Her younger sister did. Schieber said that sister’s testimony appeared to be “prompted, mechanical and robotic.” More credible, he said, was the younger sibling’s 2012 recorded interview with child protection authorities, in which she painted a more complete — and balanced — picture of the household.
The Krafts embraced tightly and kissed after the judge announced his verdicts. They now are fighting to regain custody of their own 3-year-old daughter, who was taken by child protection authorities when they were charged. They have not seen their daughter since she was eight months old, said defense lawyer Molly Hastings.
Hastings, who represented Michele Kraft, said the Krafts were not perfect parents, but tried their best to raise three children on a “food-stamp budget.”
“Questionable parenting decisions do not equate with purposefully trying to kill a child in your home,” Hastings said.
Lawyer Cathy Noble, who represented Jeffrey Kraft, said allegations that the girl was malnourished were not true.
“This was not a malnourished child,” Noble said. “This was a skinny kid.”
Hastings said she believed authorities moved so aggressively against the Krafts because child protection authorities had come under fire in a similar case only two weeks before.
A 10-year-old girl known publicly only as LP was rescued June 22, 2012, when a social worker and a police officer responding to a state hotline call discovered the girl in the closet. Her story shocked the community and prompted a battle over the release of records after child tragedies.
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