Argus Leader, August 26, 1999

Dad gets six months in jail for son's whipping
By Jennifer Gerrietts

Wheeled into the courtroom looking emaciated from a monthlong hunger strike, a Sudanese man convicted of beating his son with a belt until the boy was bloody showed no emotion as he was sentenced Wednesday to six months in jail.

Gatluak "Daniel" Puot Well of Sioux Falls told Circuit Judge Peter Lieberman that he planned to continue his month-long hunger strike, regardless of what sentence is imposed.

"I decide on my side that I no longer want to live," Well said, hunched over in his wheelchair. "I do not need a lawyer because I'm already dead."

Another judge signed an order last week requiring that Well, 32, be fed intravaneously if his life is in danger.

Well has not eaten since July 22 -- the day after he was convicted of beating his 10-year-old son with a belt buckle, leaving large gashes in the boy's head and face.

A neighbor came to Well's home and accused Well's son of stealing. When she walked down the hall she heard the sounds of the boy being beaten and saw heavy bleeding from cuts caused by his father's belt.

The Sudanese man has said that he beat his son because stealing is highly offensive to people of his cultural background. He said that what he did was not wrong.

"I love my child. I do not want my son to be a thief," Well said.

On Wednesday, Well said he didn't want his lawyer to argue for him and made arguments that black defendants are treated differently than white people.

Public defender Julie Hofer said that while cultural differences are not a defense for Well's actions, that should be taken into consideration in his sentencing. More importantly, though, she said, he is a good man who is an elected leader of the Sioux Falls Sudanese people.

Deputy State's Attorney Hope Matchan said that Well has a history of beating his two children with a belt and has been warned since 1994 that he can't discipline his children that way. Officials with social service departments in California and South Dakota and Sioux Falls School employees have worked with Well in trying to find other ways to discipline his children, she said.

Matchan said that Well is blaming his son for his problems. People have lost sight that what Well did was to violently beat a frightened little boy, she said.

"The defendant is in jail because he beat his son. The defendant may be dying -- that's because he chooses not to eat and drink," Matchan said.

Qadir Aware, executive director of Sioux Falls' Multicultural Center, said that Well has worked to set up programs to help the young people of Sioux Falls' Sudanese community. He is not a man who wants to hurt young people, he said.

"Mr. Daniel feels that he has done something wrong. He just doesn't admit it," Aware said.

Aware said he worries about what will happen to Well's two young sons. Officials said that Department of Social Services officials are seeking to terminate Well's custody rights to the boys.

When questioned after the sentencing, several Sudanese community leaders refused to comment.

Lieberman said that he was offended by Well's claims of racial prejudice in the courtroom and his claim that it would be acceptable in Sudan to beat his child. However, Well has potential to do much good, he said.

"This is a case of a man who is a good man who was out of control," Lieberman said.

Lieberman suspended four years of prison time on the condition that Well take parenting classes, cooperate with Department of Social Services in proceedings involving custody of his two sons, never beat his children and perform a month of community service. If Well violates his probation by failing to meet those conditions, he will be sent to prison.

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