Sun-Sentinel, July 17, 1998

Dad gets probation in beating
By Henry Fitzgerald, Jr. Staff Writer

Growing up in Jamaica, Michael Francis knew swift and painful discipline for any wrongdoing could come from a strap, a belt, a stick or nearly anything his parents could grab.

So he didn't think he did anything wrong when he hit his 14-year-old son with a belt on his back, arms and buttocks.

Although he later learned his son passed out moments after the beating, Francis didn't think it would land him in jail, both his sons in a foster home and cost his wife, Nellie Francis, her job as a Broward Sheriff's Office detention deputy.

But last month, Michael Francis wound up convicted of child abuse.

On Friday, saying he now knows it's not acceptable to discipline his children the way he was punished as a child , Michael Francis was sentenced to five years' probation in Broward County Circuit Court.

Nellie Francis, who was initially charged with child abuse as well, was convicted of resisting arrest without violence, a misdemeanor, at the June trial.

She was sentenced to nine months on probation.

"I thought that was the right way to discipline them," Michael Francis said after being sentenced. "It was hard to go through this because I went through 18 years of beatings when I was growing up, and here I hit my son twice in 14 years."

Nellie Francis, who delivered the couple's daughter, Kasi, on June 18, sat in the second row of the courtroom clasping a handkerchief to her chin.

When she heard her husband was not going to prison, she wiped her eyes, looked skyward, and smiled.

She hopes to win an arbitration hearing later this year and return to her job.

According to testimony, the beating occurred on Jan. 11 after Michael Francis, his 11-year-old son, and the 14-year-old returned from church. Michael Francis said he was upset that the older boy did not clean his room and ran outside when questioned about it.

After he brought his son back home, Michael Francis said, he took the boy to his room and hit him seven times with the belt to discipline him for running away. He said he was trying to hit him on the buttocks, but the boy was struggling to avoid the belt.

A doctor testified the boy had welts and scratches on his back, head and arms, and a welt shaped like a belt buckle on his face. The boy fell to the floor outside the room and Nellie Francis, their stepmother, said she saw that he seemed to be having difficulty breathing, but his eyes were open and he sat up seconds later.

The 11-year-old told investigators he was in the den but was afraid to intervene. He said when his brother passed out, Nellie Francis told him to call his aunt, a registered nurse, in nearby Lauderhill, but he dialed 911.

Prosecutor Cathy Berkowitz said at trial that Michael Francis disciplined his son out of anger and showed no remorse.

"He only showed remorse because he was charged with a crime," Berkowitz said to retired Judge Royce Agner, who presided over the case. "He's not remorseful for what he did."

Agner withheld decision for Michael and Nellie Francis, meaning neither will have a criminal conviction on their records. He also ordered them to do 100 hours of community service and continue any family counseling, parental education and anger management classes ordered by Broward family court Judge Kathleen Kearney.

Kearney is expected to rule on whether the boys will be returned in November.

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