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Osbornes sentenced to six years
May 24, 2006 12:00 am
May 17, 2006 — After enduring abuse at the hands of his father and stepmother – abuse that entailed being kept chained to a bed and routinely fed nothing more than soup and water – a severely handicapped Lebanon teenager had just one request for his parents: that they receive the same treatment he did.
On Tuesday morning, Criminal Court Judge J. O. Bond went as far as he was legally allowed to go toward granting that request.
Calling it "the saddest case I think I've ever looked at," Bond imposed the maximum sentence of six years in prison on James and Christine Osborne, the Lebanon couple convicted in March of the attempted aggravated child abuse of their mentally challenged son.
Bond was unyielding in his sentencing remarks to the defendants, who were put on trial after law enforcement and Department of Children's Services workers entered the couple's home in 2004 and found a child who was severely malnourished and clearly ill-cared for.
During the course of the four-day trial, testimony from medical experts, police, various live-in family members and even the child himself showed how the Osbornes routinely chained their son to the bed and rarely fed him more than soup.
Although neither one took the stand in his or her own defense, both parents attempted to place blame for the child's living condition elsewhere.
James Osborne's lawyer, Robert Hamilton, portrayed his client as an honest man and an important father figure to other community children, but ultimately someone who was powerless to defend his son against the will of his controlling wife.
Adam Parrish, who defended Christine Osborne, said his client lacked the education and money to properly care for her very sick and needy stepson.
Both defense lawyers said the actions the couple took were not malicious, but were those of parents who were forced to succumb to last resort tactics to keep their child from sneaking out at night to go to Wal-Mart to steal food and following through on his threats to kill Christine Osborne.
The Osbornes also maintained the boy's diet and low weight were the result of his status as a heart transplant patient, not abuse.
Ultimately, the jury agreed with part of their defense.
Prosecutors charged the Osbornes with aggravated child abuse and neglect, but the jury only found them guilty of the lesser included offense of attempted aggravated child abuse and neglect.
They were facing three to six years in prison. James Osborne was facing an additional 11 months and 29 days in jail for a guilty finding of child neglect, to which Bond also imposed the full sentence.
District Attorney General Jason Lawson asked Bond to give the longest possible sentence, saying ample jail time was necessary to deter others from attempting similar crimes.
Bond agreed. He told the Osbornes as a result of their actions being placed at the top of the incarceration range "is where you deserve to be."
"Six years sounds like a long time, but look at all the time the child suffered day after day, week after week, month after month," Bond told the Osbornes.
But Bond said he would have given the Osbornes "way" more jail time if allowed.
"Believe me, I have no way of going above the six years," the judge said. "If I did, it would go way above six years for what y'all have done to this child.
"That's the Department of Correction's sentence. But if there was ever a time that the message needs to go out that we're going to take care of our children, we're not going to let people mistreat our children, and we're going to do everything we can do to keep our children safe, it's now."
With that, James and Christine Osborne were immediately taken into custody. Christine Osborne had been incarcerated for almost two years after she violated her pretrial parole, but James Osborne had remained a free man.
Under state law, both defendants will be eligible for parole after serving 30 percent of their sentence.
And for Christine Osborne, who has served nearly two years already, that means she will be eligible to be free in a matter of months.
But Lawson explained she will have a parole hearing before being granted parole.
Lawson said he was hopeful the sentence will send a strong message to the public about the seriousness of child abuse.
"I think that hopefully when people see this they will take a hard look a their own lives and make sure they're not mistreating their children," he said. "And, if so, they understand that judges will sentence them and put them in jail for doing that."
Staff Writer Jared Allen can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15 or by e-mail at email@example.com.