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Ex-Mother of Year Goes on Trial in Child Abuse Case

May 10, 1996| From Associated Press

MARTINEZ, Calif. — A woman once named "mother of the year" by Nancy Reagan was in court for allegedly abusing two foster children in her care in a case that prosecutors attributed to a rare psychological disorder.

Prosecutors allege that Yvonne Eldridge starved the two girls and told doctors they suffered from a long list of problems that included vomiting, constipation, seizures, lack of appetite, dehydration, migraine headaches and acute diarrhea.

Based on her word, doctors did scores of tests, surgically planted feeding tubes in their stomachs and removed one girl's lower intestine.

The sickly girls recovered only after they were taken away from her, court records say.

Prosecutors say Eldridge was motivated by Munchausen by proxy, a psychological disorder that causes sufferers to make the people they care for sick to get attention, especially from doctors.

Eldridge, who received the national award in 1988, denied having the syndrome or abusing the children.

"Yvonne Eldridge did the best job she could do in taking care of these kids," her attorney, William Egan, said during his opening statement Wednesday.

Eldridge's renown as a foster mother fell in 1991 with allegations that she purposely made some of her foster children ill and even caused the deaths of three of them.

Prosecutors never charged her in the deaths. In fact, the Contra Costa County district attorney's office declined to prosecute, saying there wasn't enough evidence.

But a county grand jury indicted her in the two abuse cases in December 1994 after an investigation by the state attorney general's office.

In a blow to the prosecution, Contra Costa County Judge Peter Spinetta ruled Tuesday that prosecutor Joyce Blair, a deputy attorney general, could not introduce evidence about Munchausen because it would be prejudicial.

The trial is scheduled to last six weeks. If convicted, the 44-year-old woman faces a maximum sentence of more than five years in prison. Probation and counseling would also be options.

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