The parents called it discipline; prosecutors called it abuse. The children, two girls aged 10 and 12, received bloody welts from belt lashes and orders to stand in a corner for hours. They've since been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. One sister told a counselor she can't wear a swimsuit without having to explain her scars to friends.
Their mother, Lisa Anne Smith, 31, 235 9th Ave. W., West Fargo, was sentenced Monday in Cass County District Court to serve four months in jail and two years of supervised probation. She and her husband, 25-year-old Joseph Sanford Smith, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of child neglect or abuse.
Joseph Smith, the girls' step-father, was sentenced in June to nine months at the James River Correctional Center and two years of supervised probation.
Lisa A. Smith West Fargo police began investigating the parents in October 2003 when school officials reported a possible case of abuse. At school, one of the girls showed belt marks on her chest and upper thighs. "These weren't just a couple of marks," Assistant State's Attorney Lori Mickelson said at Monday's hearing. "These girls were beaten to the point of where there were bloody scars." Lisa Smith told an officer she once had her daughter soak in the bathtub to relieve some of the pain. She said the girls were usually spanked for stealing or lying.
Her attorney, public defender Steve Mottinger, said Smith's husband was more responsible for the abuse. Still, the mother admitted she knew it was happening and didn't try to stop it, Mottinger said. Lisa Smith declined to speak at the hearing and wouldn't comment afterward.
Mottinger read part of a letter she had written to the court that apologized for the abuse. "If I could take all this back, I would," part of it read. Smith has lost custody of her girls, and another family has adopted them.
The sisters still suffer from anxiety, nightmares and hyper-vigilance against another attack, according to a counselor's report in a pre-sentence investigation. "These children are suffering even today," East Central District Judge Michael McGuire said. Mickelson recommended the same nine-month sentence for Lisa Smith that her husband received.
The Smiths share two young sons, an infant and a 3-year-old, but investigators didn't find any abuse toward them. The couple has taken parenting classes in hopes of regaining custody of the other children. Joseph Smith told police he loved his girls, and in a letter to McGuire he said he was sorry. "I am working extremely hard to be a better husband and father to my family," he wrote.
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