Son kept in basement for 18 months testifies as Wimbush trial begins

Therian and Recardo Wimbush at a 2014 hearing.
Therian and Recardo Wimbush at a 2014 hearing.

Recardo and Therian Wimbush's trial for child abuse and false imprisonment began Tuesday. The former Georgia Tech football star and his wife cross-examined the son they are accused of keeping in a darkened basement for 18 months.

Recardo Wimbush and his wife Therian Wimbush are defending themselves against charges of child abuse and false imprisonment. Acting as their own lawyers, they cross-examined two of their sons. One, now 16, was kept in the basement for a year-and-a-half for "disciplinary reasons," they told Gwinnett County police upon their 2014 arrest.

The other, now 10, did not receive professional medical attention while a malignant skin tumor grew on his abdomen. Now in foster care, the boy has had the tumor surgically removed and is undergoing chemotherapy. Both sons appeared via closed-circuit television. The AJC is not identifying them by name because they are juveniles and alleged victims of abuse.

Gwinnett County Assistant District Attorney Dan Mayfield described a squalid, small room where the older son spent those 18 months. A lone window was painted over and lightbulbs were removed. The only objects in the room were the mattress he slept on and an animal cracker jar he urinated in when he was not allowed to use the restroom. After he ran away, his parents put a lock on the door, multiple witnesses testified.

When asked by Mayfield what he would do all day while he could hear his nine siblings playing upstairs, the older son said: “I just laid down in my bed ... I just wished I could be upstairs and be a part of it.”

When prompted by his mother, the older son acknowledged he agreed to the basement as a punishment for taking a family DVD player instead of a spanking. He would tell his mother he was not ready to come upstairs when she asked if he was, he testified when Therian Wimbush asked him.

Therian Wimbush greeted both sons warmly, calling them each “handsome” and telling them she loved them when the cross-examination ended. At one point, she was overwhelmed with emotion while questioning her older son and the court had to recess briefly.

Both Therian and Ricardo Wimbush only asked their younger son about the tumor, which the son referred to as his “lump.”

Ricardo Wimbush questioned both of his sons briefly, telling each he loved them at the end of the cross-examination.

The prosecution also called a Department of Family and Child Services investigator and a guardian ad litem, both of whom met with the two boys when the alleged abuse was discovered.

Det. Patricia Boon, of DFCS, described the older son having trouble walking up stairs and feeling weak in the legs after being removed from the basement. His nails were long and jagged and his body was thin. She recalled buying him a Whopper from Burger King and watching him ravenously devour “every crumb.” A few months after he had been out into foster care, Boon saw the older son again.

“He looked like a completely different person,” Boon said. “He had gained weight ... His complexion was different. His demeanor was different. I just didn’t recognize him. He smiled at me. He had never smiled at me before.”

Leanne Chancey, the guardian ad litem, described the younger son’s tumor as being the size of her fist. The older son, Chancey said, still missed his parents and sometimes felt willing to go “back to the basement” if that’s what it took to see them again.

“[He] absolutely wants to go back to his parents,” Chancey said. “Sometimes when you talk to him, he would be willing to go back to being locked in the basement.”

Court resumes Wednesday morning. Mayfield anticipates calling five more witnesses before the Wimbushes present their case, which may involve their other eight children taking the stand.

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