A 10-year-old child rescued from her mother’s urine-saturated closet sat on the edge of her hospital bed in June 2012 as a Kansas City police detective asked her about her life.
“I don’t want to stay in the closet no more,” the child known as LP told detective Robert Roubal, who recorded the interview.
He played the recording Tuesday for jurors hearing evidence in the child abuse trial of Jacole Prince, 32, accused of often locking her 10-year-old daughter in the closet, seldom feeding her, keeping her out of school and neglecting to get her necessary medical care. The trial is to resume Wednesday after an early recess Tuesday to address legal issues.
Roubal’s recording marked the first chance for jurors to hear LP’s voice.
Less than two hours later, they got to meet the girl.
LP entered the Jackson County courtroom about 11 a.m., sat down, told jurors her name and added: “I’m 14. I’m in seventh grade.”
“You’re doing great,” Assistant Jackson County Prosecutor Trisha Lacey told LP, who held her composure as she recalled her closet ordeal, confirmed her subsequent heart transplant surgery and looked at her mother for the first time in years.
“Jacole, she used to be my mom,” LP said.
She described being kept in the closet with no light or toys. She slept there a lot. When she needed to go to the bathroom, “I had to knock on the door. Sometimes I couldn’t hold it.”
When not in the closet, she usually stayed behind the couch or on the floor. A red chair in the room was for a younger sister, not her. Some days, she never got food. When she did, she usually ate it in the closet or behind the couch.
The day she was rescued, her mother had taken her two sisters somewhere but left her locked in the closet, LP said.
Prince, who had remained impassive during earlier testimony in the trial, often resting her head on her left hand, maintained that posture during her daughter’s approximately 10-minute appearance. But now and then, Prince dabbed a tissue to her eyes with her right hand.
She faces charges of child endangerment, first-degree assault and child abuse.
Authorities rescued her oldest daughter from a second-floor closet in their Kansas City apartment after moving a playpen blocking the closet’s doors and cutting shoelaces that had been tied around the closet’s doorknobs, according to testimony presented Monday. A 10-year-old LP weighed 32 pounds that day. Medical personnel who evaluated her at Children’s Mercy Hospital testified that she should have weighed nearly twice that.
Prosecutors opened the trial Monday by describing the allegations against Prince and how the mistreatment had affected LP’s health.
A defense attorney on Monday said that Prince suffered from a “mental disease” that impaired her ability to recognize the harm she had been causing her eldest daughter. The defense also alleged that mental evaluation of Prince scheduled in 2006 had never been completed and that state child welfare advocates had failed to follow up.
The competency issues arose again Tuesday, prompting Jackson County Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs to recess the trial in mid-afternoon. He told jurors the court needed to address “legal issues” and instructed them to return for more testimony Wednesday that could resume at 9:30 a.m.
But Youngs told defense attorneys to have Prince in the courtroom at 8:30 a.m., suggesting that the competency issue would be addressed then.
Earlier Tuesday Roubal, the police detective, walked jurors through meeting LP in the hospital.
LP was quiet and shy but willing to talk, Roubal said. She looked small for age 10. Through her hospital gown, he could see her shoulder blades protruding from her back. He said LP had been wearing a size 2T shirt — the size often worn by a toddler approaching age 2.
Roubal asked LP during his 2012 interview if anyone had locked her in the closet.
“Just my mom,” said LP, who recounted how another child’s bed sometimes blocked the closet door so she could not get out.
When Roubal asked whether LP received something to eat every day, she answered: “Not really, not today.”
But she had been given some barbecue the day before, she said.
Tanya Keys, regional director of the Jackson County Children’s Division, described how after visiting LP in the hospital, she went out to buy clothes for the child but had to return four pairs of shorts because they proved to be too big. She exchanged them for a size extra small.
LP’s foster mother testified that her first impression of LP had involved how small the girl was. LP walked with a slight limp. She had wounds that were healing, including sores on her head. She still had baby teeth, which LP soon began to lose upon arrival at the foster home.
When the foster mother took LP home from the hospital on June 30, 2012, the girl stood 3 feet, 8 inches and weighed 41 pounds.
Excited to see her new home, LP took two flashlights from among items given her at the hospital and went to explore its rooms, said the foster mother, identified to the public only as J.S.
“She went to every room in my house, looking in the closets. She checked it out thoroughly,” J.S. recalled.
On a trip to a store, LP didn’t recognize various vegetables. So J.S. held some up for her and told her what they were.
Outdoors, the girl didn’t recognize squirrels or rabbits, either.
And the first time LP stepped in snow, she jumped back and said: “It’s cold.”
Weeks after taking LP home, her foster mother noticed that her feet were swollen. She began to complain of being fatigued. At times, she had to be carried. So back to the hospital LP went, this time to learn about her failing heart.
Today, she has a new heart and a new life. But an old fear remains, J.S. said.
Even today, she said, LP prefers that closet doors in her home stay closed.
The Star’s previous coverage of LP’s case:
Day 1 of the trial:
Before the trial: