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Couple Charged in Starving of Teenager

Crime: Mother, stepdad likely will face homicide count. The 18-year-old weighed just 62 pounds.

September 26, 2002|From Associated Press

HAZLETON, Pa. — A severely malnourished teenager who authorities said was starved by his mother and stepfather died Wednesday, four days after he was found wandering a Florida town.

Chester Lee Miller, 18, knocked on a stranger's door in Milton, Fla., on Saturday and asked if he could take a shower and rest. The woman gave him a sandwich and something to drink, then phoned for help.

The 5-foot-3 teen told police his stepfather in Hazleton had put him on a bus to Florida and told him to go look for his real dad.

Miller's mother and stepfather, Lyda Miller, 37, and Paul Hoffman Sr., 38, were charged Tuesday in Pennsylvania with aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person. Hazleton Police Chief Edward Harry said the couple will be charged with homicide.

At a hearing Tuesday, Hoffman said he was on disability for mental illness and that he was "deeply sorry" for his actions. "I have no idea why I did it," he told the judge.

Janice Goodman said Miller arrived on her doorstep Saturday with sunken eyes and barely able to stand. He weighed just 62 pounds. She said he told her he had been turned away from the home of an uncle in the nearby town of Bagdad.

"He looked like a Holocaust victim," she said. "I felt worried for his safety. I felt as though he was going to die right there."

Officials in Milton said they did not know how long Miller was there before he was hospitalized.

"He said he had been here maybe a week, but we aren't sure. He was so malnourished, we weren't sure how clear his mind was," Det. Mike Daughtery said.

Investigators said Miller told Goodman that "his parents had been very mean to him."

Prosecutors said Miller's mother and stepfather confined him to one room, beat him every day, fed him only scraps and didn't let him out of the house to go to school or see friends.

Two other children living in the couple's home were taken into state custody when the couple were charged.

Investigators believe the neglect started in May, Harry said. He said the couple admitted abusing the boy, but didn't explain why. The couple did not yet have attorneys.

The family lived in Hazleton, a small city 80 miles north of Philadelphia. Miller's grandmother lived in an apartment across the hall. His cousin, Clifford Shipps Jr., 22, said the teen seemed healthy and weighed at least 110 pounds when he last saw him about six weeks ago.

"We were wrestling around in the living room, and he seemed fine to me," Shipps said. "He had all kinds of energy. He's always been small."

Shipps said he hadn't seen any signs that Miller was being neglected. He said the family chastised the teen for his grades and occasionally made him stand in a corner as punishment. He said Miller was "slow" and acted younger than his age.

Investigators said they had located Miller's birth father and planned to interview him.

School officials in Florida said Miller had gone to middle school in Milton and attended high school for two-thirds of a year before transferring to a charter school for students with behavioral problems.

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