Trial begins for Gwinnett couple accused of starving autistic daughter

Describing Jade Jacobs’ then-15-year-old autistic daughter as “abused, starved and imprisoned,” Gwinnett County Assistant District Attorney Bobby Wolf laid out the case Wednesday against Jacobs and her husband, William Anthony Brown.

Jacobs and Brown, the girl’s stepfather, are both charged with first-degree child cruelty and false imprisonment. The couple are on trial in Gwinnett this week.

The daughter was 66 pounds when she was brought to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta on Aug. 1, 2014.  At that time, Jacobs had placed a frantic 911 call saying her daughter was attacking her siblings and eating her own feces, defense attorney Quinton Spencer said.

The AJC is not naming the daughter because she is a minor and an alleged victim of abuse.

Before the daughter was brought to the hospital, she was regularly kept in a small basement closet, with feces smeared on the walls and only a urine-stained mat to sleep on, Wolf said. Food was regularly withheld, and Jacobs insisted emergency room nurses stop feeding her daughter twice while the teenager was in the hospital, he said.

When the daughter was placed in a foster home, she began compulsively overeating in fear food would be restricted again, Wolf said.

“She was so worried that she would be starved again… that she would store food in her cheeks because she was afraid it would be her last meal,” Wolf said.

Todd Moog, the daughter’s foster father, testified that the daughter would spit the food stored in her cheeks under the pillow on her bed “to save for later.”

When the daughter arrived at the Moog household, the 15-year-old “looked like an 8-year-old” because she was very thin and had not gone through puberty, Moog said.

But defense attorneys painted a picture of a mother at her wit’s end after seeking help from doctors and disability groups to no avail. They also noted a father largely removed from the household, working as a long-haul trucker and not seeing his family often. The only time Jacobs’ daughter received assistance from the state was after her mother and stepfather were in handcuffs, defense attorney Lawrence Lewis said.

“My client was responsible for her children. The situation was totally out of control. It was out of control because of the disability,” Lewis said. “She begged for help for six months, and six months’ worth of resources were put to no avail.”

Then, Lewis’ voice raised to a shout.

“What more could she do?” he asked. “What more could she do?”

Many people legally obligated to report child abuse had seen Jacobs’ daughter in the months before the parents’ arrests, and none reported anything amiss, Lewis said. The daughter had weighed 70 lbs a year before her mother’s and stepfather’s arrests, when the family moved from Baltimore to Lawrenceville, he said.

Jacobs’ daughter, now 17 and living with a foster family, was the first to testify Wednesday. She is largely nonverbal, saying few words and answering only a few simple questions. While she could identify the color of the court reporter’s jacket, she had trouble counting three cups in front of her.

She failed to identify Jacobs and Brown when asked by both the prosecution and defense, saying nothing and staring blankly across the courtroom. Her foster father, Todd Moog testified that the daughter had previously identified Jacobs as “Jade” but had indicated she did not know who Brown was. The daughter could identify her foster mother, Brenda Moog, in the courtroom, calling her “Brenmama.”

Jacobs’ and Brown’s trial will continue Thursday, and likely into next week.

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