The general public do not regard autistic people as human beings. This was proven again yesterday when a jury found John Eckhart and Alayna Higdon not guilty of all charges after the prosecution showed that they were keeping his autistic children in a caged room:
After the six-day trial, the panel of six men and six women deliberated for four hours before deciding the Vancouver couple’s restraint of the young boys was reasonable for their safety.
“It was a fair decision,” a juror said, as she left the courtroom.
Another juror, Michael Simonson, said outside the courtroom that most of the jurors had decided to acquit as soon as they began deliberating, save for one holdout juror who eventually agreed with the others. Verdicts in criminal cases have to be unanimous.
Simonson said he felt the case had been blown out of proportion.
“I guess what distresses me is that this went this far — that this couldn’t be resolved” earlier, Simonson said.
I did cry.
I still might vomit.
A Vancouver man accused of keeping his autistic sons in a caged room testified in his own defense on Friday:
John Eckhart took the witness stand Friday afternoon and told jurors he's barely literate, so he couldn't read books on how to help his autistic sons, but that he'd heard on either "Nanny 911" or "Supernanny," that if a parent becomes worried a child might hurt himself, it's OK to lock the child in a room where he's safe.
His girlfriend Alayna Higdon said she loved the boys as her own and that the caged door made her uncomfortable at first:
"It frightened me a little bit, but I lived with it," Higdon said. "The next morning [after the cage was installed] the boys woke up, there was nothing. They were just talking and having a good time."
Experts at the trial of John Eckhart and Alyana praised the couple for keeping his autistic children in a caged room, calling it "a great idea" and saying that autistic people "prefer to be alone":
Defense attorney Jon McMullen called a Portland psychologist, Gary Adams, who testified that keeping autistic children in a “safe room,” as he called it, was more beneficial to those children’s safety than being able to move freely around the house.
About the cage-style door that Eckhart constructed out of wire shelving: “I think it’s amazing. I think it’s a great idea,” he said.
In cross-examination, the prosecution pointed out that Adams’ training and education in autism was in the 1970s.
Adams’ testimony was in sharp contrast to the prosecution’s two psychologists, who said confining special needs children could have an adverse effect on their psychological well-being.
Before Adams, a Tigard, Ore., speech therapist, Robert Buckendorf, said that many autistic children don’t understand consequences and often put themselves in harm’s way, such as crossing a busy street or wandering from an apartment. He said while he believes parents should be engaged, they also should have time to themselves. He said it’s fine to isolate children while a parent gets chores done or has a night out.
“Sometimes parents need to put kids in a safe room,” Buckendorf said.
That is also what people with autism want, he said: “I would say it’s fair to say people with autism prefer to be alone,” he said.
Video at end of post.
Alayna Higdon's son described in court yesterday the grim life that John Echkart's autistic children lived while Eckhart and Higdon kept them in a bedroom with a caged door:
The 10-year-old said he was often asked to feed and care for his younger brothers, who were 5 and 7 at the time. He said he made them waffles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, handing them the food through the cage. He also said the boys were allowed to watch TV from behind the cage in their room; sometimes the 10-year-old would sit in hallway and watch with them.
He testified that the boys were allowed out for dinner, holidays, and baths. Eckhart spent much of his time playing video games, but would go into the boys' room a few times a day to change their diapers, and play with them for about five minutes.
The trial of John Eckhardt and Alayna Higdon continued yesterday, with Higdon's mother testifying that she rarely saw the two autistic boys the couple is accused of unlawfully imprisoning out of their caged room:
The mother of one of the defendants, Alayna Higdon, took the stand on the second day of trial of Higdon, 27, and her boyfriend, John Eckhart, 31. She first told jurors she routinely stopped by her daughter’s apartment about twice a month. When Higdon and Eckhart first moved into the Springfield Meadows apartments off Andresen Road, Alice Higdon said, the boys were just kept behind a baby gate.
The security measures increased to wire shelving bolted so that it covered the entire doorway of the boys’ sparse bedroom in early 2011.
“They were pretty much back there every time I went,” she said.
On cross-examination, she changed her story:
Pressed by the defense lawyers, Alice Higdon shifted her testimony to say she saw the boys, then 5 and 7, outside the room about three times, on special occasions.
“Bottom line, Ms. Higdon: You have no idea how often the boys were out of the room,” defense attorney Jon McMullen asked.
“No, I wasn’t there,” Alice Higdon said.
Some of Alayna Higdon's statements to the police were ruled inadmissible because they were made before she was read her Miranda rights.