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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 17:38 GMT
Mother jailed for locking up daughter
Barbara Atkinson
Atkinson tried to blame her traumatic childhood
A US mother who imprisoned her malnourished eight-year-old daughter in a filthy closet has been jailed for life in Dallas.

Barbara Atkinson and her former husband, Kenneth, were arrested last June after the girl, who weighed just 11.34 kilograms (25 pounds), was discovered near death.

She laid there naked in her own faeces, in her own urine, praying someone might open the door

Susan Hawke, Prosecutor
Prosecutors, who have described the case as one of "unprecedented evil", said Atkinson will be eligible for parole in 30 years.

Mr Atkinson has been charged with sexually assaulting and beating the child and is currently in jail awaiting trial.

The girl, one of six children by four fathers, was rescued after a suspicious neighbour called the police to the Atkinson's trailer in the town of Hutchins, south of Dallas.

Half normal weight

The child was found huddled and naked in her own excrement in a locked closet.

She weighed about half the normal weight for a child of her age and was close to death from starvation, child protection investigators testified.

"We have seen evil like we never knew that evil existed. This is evil. She laid there naked in her own faeces, in her own urine, praying someone might open the door," said prosecutor Susan Hawk.

"We all have our demons but we don't lock up babies in closets," she added.

Sexual abuse

Prosecutors said the girl had been beaten and sexually abused, allegedly by her stepfather, Kenneth Atkinson, who is charged with sexual assault on a child as well as serious bodily injury to a child.

Investigators said Atkinson had told them the girl was being punished for misbehaving and that she did not love her as much as her five other children.

Last Thursday Atkinson, aged 30, changed her plea to guilty on the charge of serious bodily injury to a child, but offered no explanation in court for her actions.

Defence attorney Brad Lollar had argued Atkinson suffered a traumatic childhood with a drug-addicted prostitute mother who placed her in foster care when she was three years old.

Brighter future

Atkinson, had herself given up her daughter at birth, but she later regretted it and the child was returned.

An East Texas couple who tried to adopt the child at birth are now her foster parents and are seeking permanent custody.

They say the girl has now gained weight, has started attending school and is doing well.

See also:

10 Sep 01 | Americas
Shock over US child sex trade
12 Jan 01 | UK
Anna's life of horror
08 Jan 02 | Americas
Texas child killer on trial
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