MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A Berkeley County man accused of starving his two children and locking them in the basement of his home pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of child abuse causing serious bodily injury.
Jesse A. Lafferty, 34, who is scheduled to be sentenced July 16, told 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes that he intentionally withheld food from his children in order to punish them.
Each felony conviction comes with a two- to 10-year prison sentence and Wilkes has discretion to order the sentences be served consecutively. Lafferty will be required to register with the child-abuse registry and can have no contact with the children, according to the plea agreement.
Five other abuse and neglect-related charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement that Wilkes accepted Monday.
The children were 3 and 5 years old in August 2010 when authorities found them in a starved condition that resembled what you would find in Third World countries, Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said Monday.
The children were at times deprived of food for more than 24 hours and three or four days a week at their Labonte Drive home, Games-Neely said.
When they were fed, it was usually a sandwich, Games-Neely said. Their malnourishment left them with distended or swollen abdomens, a symptom of being starved, according to Games-Neely.
The biological mother of the children now has custody of them, Games-Neely said after the hearing.
“They’re doing really well right now,” Games-Neely said.
Lafferty could have faced a total of nine to 45 years in prison if convicted on all seven counts of his February 2011 indictment, defense attorney Christopher Prezioso told the court.
Games-Neely said after the hearing that if the case went to trial, her office would have had to overcome the challenge of having young children testify about how they were mistreated at an even younger age in order to gain convictions on what would have been more difficult charges to prove.
The two felony counts that Lafferty pleaded guilty to Monday carry the stiffest penalties, according to Games-Neely.
Lafferty’s girlfriend, who also was accused in the starvation case, is expected to plead guilty May 7 to two felony counts of child neglect as part of a plea agreement reached in her case, Games-Neely said.
Karen S. Boback, 45, agreed to testify against Lafferty as part of the plea agreement.
The couple originally was indicted on two counts of child abuse causing serious bodily injury, two counts of child abuse causing bodily injury, two counts of gross child neglect creating substantial risk of bodily injury or death and one count of conspiracy, according to court records.
According to the indictment, Boback told police at the time of the arrests that Lafferty made the children take cold showers, spanked them with a belt and made them spend nights on a cold, concrete floor in the basement.
Boback told investigators the children spent more than half of their time in the basement with only a small carpet and a couple of blankets, court records show.
Police found a baby monitor near the blankets and a child’s portable toilet in the basement, records show. The refrigerator was padlocked and a deadbolt was found on the food pantry, according to records.
Games-Neely said Boback’s children, who also resided at the home, were not similarly abused and noted the family had food to eat at the house.
Upon entering the plea, Lafferty told the judge that he had never been treated for a mental illness and Prezioso later noted that the defendant had been deemed competent to stand trial.
Lafferty told the court he graduated from high school and had worked as a “cross-country” truck driver and welder.