A Lexington woman accused of locking her children in a dog cage, forcing them to jump off a roof and trying to suffocate them with plastic shopping bags apparently had a seizure moments after details of the alleged abuse were revealed in court.
Details were provided through testimony Thursday by James Root, a detective in Lexington police's Crimes Against Children unit. Root gave a clearer picture of what led police to charge Cheryl G. Christopher, 51, and her husband, Elisha B. Christopher, 69.
Root said Cheryl Christopher had five adopted children living with her, but the majority of abuse seemed to be directed at two girls, who were 7 to 9 years old during a period of "ongoing abuse." Police have previously said the alleged abuse has been going on for several years.
Police were first contacted in June by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services about disturbing statements the children made during therapy sessions, he said.
"They disclosed to their counselor that their mother ... had put them in dog cages with Doberman pinschers and had on several occasions attempted to drown them after duct-taping their eyes and mouth," he said. "Both children stated that their mother had placed Kroger or Wal-Mart bags over their heads, trying to suffocate them."
The girls said their mother forced them to jump off a roof, and they indicated their mother padlocked their bedroom doors, locking them inside for extended periods, he said.
The stories were "corroborated by siblings and outside sources that were not related to the Christophers," Root said.
Police have said the alleged abuse took place at the couple's former home in the 1900 block of Deauville Drive. The Christophers moved to St. Anthony Drive in January after they were evicted for failing to pay rent, according to court documents.
Root said the company that owns the Deauville Drive property told police after the Christophers were evicted that doors in the house had locks on the outside and that some of the doors had "claw marks or kick marks from inside the rooms trying to get out," he said.
John Thurman, who lives in the Deauville Drive home now, said in a phone interview Thursday he found carpet and duffel bags in the attic "as if people were living up there."
When police interviewed the children, their stories were "remarkably similar" even though they hadn't had contact with each other for months while in foster care.
The kids also said Cheryl Christopher stabbed her husband on one occasion when he tried to stop her from suffocating a child with a plastic bag. Elisha Christopher described the wound as "a nick" to police, Root said.
When questioned why Elisha Christopher was charged, Root said he had never reported the abuse to the authorities.
"If he had such a concern that he intervened and got stabbed ... and still didn't report it to authorities, he failed" to protect the kids, Root said.
Root told Judge Megan Lake Thornton that police were still investigating the case. Specifically, they were reading journals Cheryl Christopher forced the children to write and watching video recordings, he said. He did not elaborate about the videos.
Police arrested the Christophers on July 20. Cheryl Christopher is charged with first-degree criminal abuse, first-degree wanton endangerment and unlawful imprisonment; her husband is charged with one count of criminal abuse. They have pleaded not guilty.
On Thursday, Thornton ordered that the Christophers have no contact with the children while out on bond.
"If it were up to me, you wouldn't be out of custody," Thornton said.
Their attorneys, public defenders Chris Tracy and John Landon, told the judge the Christophers hadn't had any contact with the children for almost a year, since they were taken by social services.
Thornton ruled there was enough evidence to present the case to a grand jury, which will decide whether to indict the Christophers, who have been released from jail on property bond.
Shortly after that, Cheryl Christopher dropped into a seat on the way out of the courtroom. She began quivering, and several family members surrounded her and said she was having a seizure.
Christopher was convulsing and screaming in the hallways of the courthouse after paramedics loaded her onto a stretcher to take her to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital. Her sister, Pamela Gregory, said Christopher is prone to seizures, has diabetes and has had a heart attack. The criminal charges have taken a toll on her frail health, she said.
After the hearing, as family members were tending to Christopher and waiting for paramedics to arrive, her sister Pamela Gregory spoke with reporters outside.
Gregory said that Cheryl Christopher did not abuse her children and that the stories were concocted by the two girls, whom she described as "a handful."
When the two girls were adopted, "that just seemed like when all the problems started," she said.
Gregory noted that Christopher's 20-year-old daughter posted the property bond to get the couple out of jail. The daughter was in the courtroom through the hearing and by her mother's side as she was wheeled out.
"If she was abused, why would she be around them?" Gregory said of the older daughter. "She's not going to be around her parents if they're like that."
Gregory said that her sister has a temper, like anyone, and that the family sometimes squabbles over mundane things like chores and discipline. But when social services took the kids last year, "they didn't have a mark on them," she said.
"A monster puts a plastic bag over her kid's head," Gregory said. "She is not a monster."