The younger sister of a 10-year-old girl kept locked in a closet felt pressured not to tell anyone, the sister told jurors Wednesday in the child-abuse related trial of the girls’ mother, Jacole Prince.
Her mother told her to lie or she would get in trouble, said the sister, referred to publicly as MB.
After her mother learned that she had told a cousin, her mother hit her in the back, MB said.
Prince, 32, is accused of repeatedly locking LP in a closet, seldom feeding her, keeping her out of school and neglecting to see that she got adequate medical care prior to the girl’s rescue in June 2012. Prince faces charges of child endangerment, first-degree assault and child abuse in the Jackson County case.
MB, now a 12-year-old sixth-grader, said she had seen her mother once since Prince’s arrest. She acknowledged in court that her mother was sitting at the defense table.
When defense attorney Curtis Winegarner asked her to confirm details regarding the food LP was given and when she was allowed to use a couch, MB buried her face in her hands, began to cry and reached for a box of tissues.
Her older sister spent “every day” in the closet “unless it was time to eat or something,” MB testified.
Sometimes LP would be allowed into the kitchen before her mother or mother’s boyfriend would put her back into the closet, MB said. The boyfriend is MB’s father.
Sometimes one of her parents would instruct her to put LP in the closet, MB said.
That made her “very sad,” MB said.
MB, who in June 2012 had just completed second grade, confirmed for Assistant Jackson County Prosecutor Trisha Lacey that she remembered LP being kept in the closet during MB’s second- and first-grade school years, as well as during kindergarten.
MB’s 20-minute court appearance highlighted the third day of the trial, which recessed early Tuesday after Winegarner raised questions about Prince’s competency.
Winegarner explained to Jackson County Judge J. Dale Youngs on Wednesday that he had grown concerned because of the stress Price felt during Tuesday’s testimony, which included the appearance of LP, now 14 years old.
“My actions yesterday were intended in good faith,” Winegarner said, adding that Prince “had raised issues that I felt needed to be investigated ... to make sure her rights were being protected.”
During her testimony Tuesday, LP, had pointed to her mother and said, “Jacole, she used to be my mom.”
Before testimony resumed Wednesday morning, Prince confirmed to Youngs that she had been seen by a physician who administered an anti-anxiety medication and that she was doing better.
“You’re OK to stay in the courtroom today?” Youngs asked.
On Wednesday, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker agreed that Tuesday’s testimony had been draining, adding that it had been “difficult for everyone involved.” That included LP’s younger sister MB, who had been “in tears,” Baker said.
MB had been expected to testify on Tuesday but did not.
Also Wednesday, jurors watching a videotaped interview with LP just after her rescue by police and a child welfare worker. LP told her interviewer that when she got in trouble at home her mother would hit her “around the eyes and the mouth.”
Jurors watched a videotape of an interview conducted with MB, then 8 years old, in summer 2012. She told Kristin Gilgour, a social worker then employed by the Child Protection Center of Kansas City, that LP slept in the closet and also was fed there.
“She has bowls for her to eat out of,” MB said then.
The problems went back many years, according to other testimony.
Kathe Kraly, a Children’s Mercy Hospital, nurse practitioner, testified Wednesday that she admitted LP to the hospital after examining the girl during a Jan. 31, 2006, visit. She considered LP to be “chronically and acutely malnourished” as well as suffering from neglect and failure to thrive and also exhibiting developmental delays.
During the two-day hospital stay, LP gained a full kilo, or 2.2 pounds, which Kraly described as “unusual.” Kraly instructed Prince to provide LP three meals a day “in a structured place and a low-stress environment.”
During a February follow-up, she noticed LP had gained weight but also exhibited behaviors sometimes associated with malnourished children. LP and a sibling appeared hungry, so the the two children were given a snack that included milk, crackers, cheese and meat. LP attempted to fill her mouth with the food, Kraly said, and was “possessive” of the food.
When Kraly saw LP again in May 2006, she had gained more weight while in the custody of her sister’s father. Prince, meanwhile, had completed a 12-week parenting class, and Kraly understood that LP would soon be again under her mother’s care.
Medical personnel who examined LP at Children’s Mercy Hospital just after her 2012 rescue have testified that the child should have weighed about twice the 32 pounds she weighed when discovered. LP later had to undergo a heart transplant.
Defense lawyers have said that Prince suffers from a “mental disease” which impaired her ability to recognize that she was harming her child. And, since a pediatric cardiac specialist did not become involved in LP’s case until about two months after she was rescued, it could not be certain that her closet ordeal directly contributed to her heart disease, they said.
The Star’s previous coverage of LP’s case:
Day 1 of the trial:
Day 2 of the trial:
Before the trial: