Child abuse case ends in probation

Published 4:05 am Monday, April 3, 2006

By By NORMA LERNER / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS - A 40-year-old Niles woman convicted of third-degree child abuse against her disabled son received three years of probation and a suspended jail term Friday in Cass County Circuit Court.
Lora Baugher of 11 South Third Street whose son, now 18, was suffering from malnutrition, is being cared for in a facility in Missouri where his health is flourishing. He is eating, gaining weight and is communicating, said Chief Assistant Prosecutor Jason Ronning, who requested that Baugher's sentencing be within her guideline range of zero to nine months. “It's a shame for what happened,” he said.
Baugher was charged with second-and-third-degree child abuse on Nov. 1 after a 15-month investigation by the Michigan State Police and the Cass County Prosecutor's Office.
The case came to the attention of authorities on April 5, 2004, when Baugher's son, Paul Benko, then 16, was found malnourished, dehydrated, experiencing kidney failure, weighing approximately 40 pounds, was physically dirty and suffering from open bedsores, according to a news release. Benko had been disabled as an infant due to suffering head injuries consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
He had been living with his parents in California and subsequently developed cerebral palsy. He was disabled, unable to speak and was confined to a wheelchair.
Judge Michael Dodge recounted it was in April, 2004, when Baugher was traveling in Illinois with another son when Benko became ill on a freeway and was airlifted to a children's hospital in Missouri.
He was suffering from severe malnutrition, acute urination failure, bedsores and bowel obstruction.
A later test indicated an “unexplainable” amount of marijuana and amphetamines in his system, Dodge said.
Dodge said it was a challenge for Baugher to take care of Benko, and she did follow medical advice.
His condition was irreprehensible, Dodge said, before imposing her probation term which he said was a plea bargain. She would have faced two years in prison.
Defense Attorney Dale Blunier agreed the abuse situation was serious, but Baugher is now gainfully employed, he said.
Dodge suspended Baugher's 180-day-jail term for 18 months to see how she complies with the probation term.
She is to pay a $1,440 probation fee and $920 in court costs.