Paulding abuse case | Comers denied bond

To Paulding County detectives, it looked as though Paul and Sheila Comer wanted to cut their teenage son out of their lives.

Mitch Comer says he was locked inside a bathroom and then a bedroom for years without contact with the outside world. His two younger sisters forgot what color his hair was but knew the sound of his screams from behind a locked door, the two told investigators. The girls and their parents were all listed on the lease for the family’s two-story home near Dallas, but Mitch wasn’t. Neighbors didn’t know a teenage boy lived in the home, either.

Someone had even used scissors to cut Mitch out of family pictures, according to testimony heard for the first time Thursday during a hearing for Paul and Sheila Comer.

“Both of them conceded that that was his life,” Sgt. Kevin Morgan with the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office said from the witness stand. “He lived in that room for years.”

The couple accused of locking away their teenage son for several years admitted to detectives what they had done following their Sept. 12 arrests, two detectives testified. The investigators said both Paul and Sheila Comer had told them it was punishment for the boy’s bad behavior.

The couple, both in orange-and-white jail jumpsuits and shackles, showed little emotion during hours of testimony before Judge Martin Valbuena told the court there was probable cause to proceed with the charges. Valbuena also denied bond for the couple but didn’t completely rule it out.

Instead, Valbuena wanted more information about what led the Comers, by Paulding detectives’ account, to move 15 times among five states since the late 1990s. The Comers rented their Paulding home for less than two years after moving from Cherokee County.

Investigators believe the family moved following a Department of Family and Children Services investigation in 2009 that didn’t result in criminal charges. But two defense attorneys said the family moved for better work opportunities for Paul Comer, who services small appliances.

Regardless of why the family moved, the details that led to the couple’s arrests made national headlines last month.

On Sept. 11, Mitch was spotted wandering around a Los Angeles bus station and taken to a police station. He has told investigators his stepfather, Paul Comer, put a blanket over his head and put him in the back of a van before driving him to the bus station in Atlanta.

But since he had missed the bus, Paul Comer then drove the 18-year-old to a bus station in Louisiana, gave him $400 and some pamphlets from a homeless shelter, and told him to never return home, Mitch has said.

His parents say Mitch had dreams of being an actor, their attorneys said.

At 5 feet 1 inches tall and weighing 87 pounds, Mitch likely stood out from others in the crime-ridden section of Los Angeles. He was approached by a security guard, who questioned him and then called police.

“He was left out for the wolves,” said Paulding County Investigator Kyle Shelton, who flew to Los Angeles. “He would not have made it throughout the night.”

Mitch, investigators said, was malnourished and had skin so white, his veins were visible under his skin. He still had his baby teeth, leading investigators to believe he hadn’t had proper nourishment.

“I thought he was a 12-year-old boy,” Morgan said. “He wouldn’t get fed very much at all. He would have to beg for food.”

The two attorneys for the Comers told the court that Mitch was fed at 7 a.m., noon and 7 p.m. every day, and that he was given meals typical to what the rest of the family ate. The Comers also say Mitch’s bedroom had a window, that the doors were not locked from the outside and that the teen could have left the home, the attorneys said.

Investigators said it is possible locks had been removed from doors when the home was searched in the days following the Comers’ arrests.

“There used to be something there,” Shelton told the court.

Mitch also described to investigators a physical punishment he faced that involved being on his knees with his forehead against the wall and his hands behind his head, Shelton said. Mitch says he was forced to hold the position for at least six hours at a time. Paul Comer said the punishment lasted about 40 minutes, according to testimony Thursday.

The couple’s two daughters, ages 11 and 13, have been in protective custody since their parents’ arrest.

Attorneys Scott Smith and Renee Rockwell, representing Paul and Sheila Comer, respectively, said the couple should be granted bond and allowed to wear ankle monitors. Defense attorneys said there were holes in Mitch’s claims and no proof of the allegations.

“The boy has made an outcry saying he was abused,” Smith said, “but there is certain evidence that doesn’t add up.”

The Comers’ next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 25.