Mom, girlfriend accused of child torture

June 15, 2008 1:29:15 PM PDT
A 5-year-old Los Angeles boy was fighting for his life today after suffering what police called one of the worst cases of child abuse they have seen, allegedly at the hands of his mother and her live-in girlfriend. Police said the boy had countless cigarette burns all over his body, including his genitals, was unable to open his hands because he had been forced to put them flat on a hot stove, and was repeatedly beaten and forced to sit in his own urine.

"In my time in policing in 27 years, I have never seen anybody with these kinds of injuries that has lived," Los Angeles Police Department First Assistant Chief James McDonnell said. "And this kid must have a tremendous will to live to be able to still hang on despite what he's been through."

The boy's mother, Starkeisha Brown, 24, was arrested after she turned herself in to police on Friday evening.

Krystal Matthews, 19, who police described as Brown's live-in girlfriend, was arrested earlier Friday when she showed up for an appointment with the state Department of Children's Services, police said.

Brown was charged with suspicion of torture and was held without bail. Matthews was arrested on suspicion of willful harm or injury to a child, and her bail was set at $100,000.

A police spokeswoman said she did not know whether either of the women had hired an attorney.

The boy was hospitalized in critical condition, officials said today.

Police said they first became aware that the boy was at risk on Monday, when Brown and Matthews were called to the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services for an appointment to check on the boy.

Brown and Matthews brought a healthy child of a mutual friend to the appointment and tried to pass him off as Brown's son, officials said. While the three were at DCS, a stranger found the boy abandoned and notified authorities, police said.

"Thankfully, we were later able to locate our victim who had been left abandoned with an unrelated stranger," McDonnell said.

At a news conference on Friday evening, McDonnell said the abuse the boy suffered included being denied basic necessities like food and water and being beaten while suspended from a door with his hands above his head.

The child had a broken tooth with a nerve exposed and was regularly forced to place his hands on a hot stove, McDonnell said.

"Because of the burns and scar tissue, he can't fully open his hands," McDonnell said.

"The treatment of this 5-year-old is akin to a level of torture we hope our military personnel would never encounter, yet this treatment came to this child at the hands of those in a position of trust," Lt. Vincent Neglia of the LAPD's Abused Child Unit said.

Police said they had no information about the boy's father, and they did not know if he had any other relatives.

Though McDonnell said the victim is the only child involved in the case, he said it was unknown if Brown and Matthews had access to other children.

ABC News affiliate KABC in Los Angeles contributed to this report.