US couple won’t serve jail time for abusing Ethiopian adoptees

The two Americans who had been charged with the abuse of two adopted Ethiopian children – escaped with light sentences. Local media called it lame justice. reported on Tuesday that:

Thirty-five-year-old Douglas Barbour, who resigned from the attorney general’s office last year, pleaded to misdemeanor counts in June and was sentenced to five years’ probation on Monday.

Thirty-two-year-old Kristen Barbour, who was the children’s primary caretaker, will serve six to 12 months in alternative housing followed by four years’ probation.

The abuse committed by Douglas and Kristen Barbour was described, by Associated Press last June, as follows:

The Franklin Park couple was charged in October 2012 when the boy was 6 and found to be malnourished, and the girl was 18 months old and found to have several multiple head fractures in various stages of healing. Kristen Barbour allegedly told doctors the toddler often banged her head accidentally, but a doctor told investigators the child’s injuries were consistent with abuse. Douglas and Kristen Barbour

The couple have two biological children, 2 and 4 at the time charges were brought, who were found not to have been abused. The couple lost custody of them because of the charges, but regained custody in April 2013. The Barbours have surrendered parental rights to the Ethiopian children and the children were placed in protective custody.

….. the couple sought help from experts, including a doctor with expertise in foreign adoptions, but the couple couldn’t deal with the children’s special needs because the Barbours were unwilling to change their parenting style.

“The doctor advised the defendants to be more flexible and change their routine and accommodate” the boy, DiGiovanni said. “Both defendants balked at this advice. ‘That’s not the way we do it. That’s not the rules in our house.'”

The couple adopted the children in March 2012 and doctors found evidence of abuse when the boy was treated for an infection that September. The boy weighed 37.5 pounds, nearly 10 pounds less than when he had been adopted, and told investigators he was forced to eat meals in the bathroom or stand alone in there when it was dark whenever he urinated or defecated in his pants. The girl’s injuries have not been explained.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called the sentencing “lame justice” in its editorial statement on Wednesday. The op-ed reads:

Lame justice: A couple’s child abuse deserved real punishment (By the Editorial Board)

In March 2012, two Ethiopian children came to this country to begin a new life, but what they got was sickening abuse and deprivation at the hands of the people who should have been nurturing them.

Douglas and Kristen Barbour, then of Franklin Park, adopted the girl and boy at the ages 1 and 6, adding them to their family, which includes two biological children. But soon it became clear that the newcomers did not fit what the Barbours had envisioned, and the horrors began.

The boy quickly lost 10 pounds because the Barbours deprived him of food, forced him to lie in urine-soaked sheets, locked him in dark bathrooms and rubbed his face in a carpet where he’d had an accident. The little girl suffered a broken leg and toe, but the Barbours did not take her to a doctor for weeks.

Their acts were the very definition of child abuse, the kind of deplorable crime that should — and typically does — bring harsh justice down on the perpetrators. But not for the Barbours.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning gave them credit for good intentions in adopting the children and barely a tap on the wrists for hurting them.

That is preposterous.

These children were not harmed by accident. The Barbours made conscious choices that hurt them physically and inflicted emotional harm that could last a lifetime.

The judge’s decision barely acknowledges their wrongdoing.

Both pleaded no contest, Douglas Barbour to misdemeanor counts under an agreement that assured him of a sentence of probation, and Kristen Barbour to felony counts, which brought an order for six to 12 months in alternative housing. Even that may be reduced.

One can’t help but wonder how this case might have been handled if the perpetrators were not well-educated, affluent white suburbanites or whether Mr. Barbour, a lawyer and former prosecutor, was extended some sick form of professional courtesy.

The children have since been adopted by new parents who are providing the loving care they need, but they have been denied the justice that they also deserve.


Daniel Berhane

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