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Osbornes convicted of abuse
Mar 21, 2006 12:00 am
March 14, 2006
After deliberating for nearly five hours Monday, a jury convicted James C. Osborne III and Christine H. Osborne of attempted aggravated child abuse and neglect, but found them both not guilty of the original charges of aggravated child abuse and neglect the state had been seeking against the Lebanon couple.
The Class C felony convictions carry three-to-six-year jail sentences. A sentencing hearing for the pair will be set today.
The verdict, handed down by seven women and five men, caused audible gasps throughout the Wilson County criminal courtroom, where eight relatives of the couple's now 16-year-old son had been camped out since the trial began last week, and where they hoped to see both Osbornes convicted of the maximum penalty.
The Osbornes had been accused of chaining the mentally and physically handicapped child to their bed and feeding him mainly soup and water.
A day after the boy was removed from the couple's home on Sept. 21, 2004, Vanderbilt Children's Hospital physicians diagnosed him as severely malnourished and at a "substantial risk" of death.
But prosecutors and defense attorneys argued for days about whether or not the child's physical state was the result of the Osbornes' actions, a pre-existing heart condition or a medical reaction to the vast amount of food he was given at University Medical Center the day he was taken into custody by the state Department of Children's Services.
Attorneys also jarred over whether or not the physical restraints the child was placed in were an act of intentional abuse – as the state held – or a justified reaction by parents who did not otherwise know how to care for a child who constantly snuck out of the house to steal food, and who admitted to often wanting to kill his stepmother with a kitchen knife.
As the jury foreman read aloud the first not guilty verdict, James Osborne grasped the arm of his attorney, Robert Hamilton, and shook it firmly.
He then stood silently as the jury found him guilty of the lesser included offense as well as guilty of a separate count of child neglect.
Christie Osborne threw her head back and smiled when the foreman announced her not guilty verdict. It was the first emotion she had visibly displayed throughout the course of the four-day trial.
But even as she and her husband were found guilty of attempted aggravated child abuse and neglect, some of the child's extended family members and members of the Wilson County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) began weeping and holding on to one another, their face conveying a deep sense of shock.
All family remained under a court-ordered gag order and rushed out of the courtroom past a horde of news outlets after Judge J. O. Bond dismissed the jury.
Both defendants as well as their attorneys also sped out of the building, exiting from a side door while a prosecutor briefed the media on what the reduced charges meant for the Osbornes.
Assistant District Attorney Jason Lawson, who tried the Osbornes along with Assistant D.A. Howard "Buck" Chambers, said Bond will determine how much time each of the parents will serve based on the reduced charges and time already served.
Christie Osborne has been in custody since late July 2005 after a judge revoked her bond for apparently contacting her stepson. James Osborne served at least seven months following his late September 2004 arrest.
Lawson would not say he was disappointed in the outcome of the trial, which has been one of the highest-profile cases the County Criminal Court has seen in years.
"This case was very complicated. There was a lot of medical proof. . . and so we knew coming in that the jury was going to have a difficult job, and we are just glad that they went through it and did their service," Lawson told reporters after the verdict.
One member of the prosecution's team, however, did express anger over the verdict.
"I'm disappointed," said Lebanon Police Detective Scott Massey, who testified against the defendants on the first day of the trial and sat beside Lawson and Chambers until the end. "Just being there dealing with it first hand, I knew more about the case than the jury did."
Massey was the lead detective in charge of the initial investigation and testified Wednesday that he solicited a confession from James Osborne about repeatedly chaining the child to the couple's bed as well as sneaking him food and water while his wife was out of the house.
"I'm happy they were convicted. I'm just not happy with what they were convicted of," the 16-year veteran of the Lebanon Police Department said outside the courthouse.
Staff Writer Jared Allen can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15 or by e-mail at email@example.com.