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Two sentenced to maximum jail time in neglect of minors case

Paul and Melissa Trapani received the maximum sentence for six counts of neglect of a minor in Carroll County Circuit Court on Thursday, Aug. 2.

Judge Thomas Stansfield sentenced the Westminster husband and wife to five years for each of six counts of neglect of a minor — a total of 30 years each — to be served consecutively in the Maryland Department of Corrections.

Six children, ages 5 to 12, were removed from the couple’s care and placed in foster care after investigators found the condition of the home to be dangerous and unsanitary. The two youngest children were kept locked in a room with wooden bars over the door and were found to be developmentally delayed in areas including their speech, motor and social skills, according to a statement of facts read during Thursday’s sentencing hearing.

Stansfield said he does not often choose to sentence first-time offenders to jail time except in cases of murder or rape, but he had never seen child neglect to the extent of what was uncovered in this case.

“I find it absolutely appalling what happened to these children,” the judge said. “They may never recover from the failure of their parents to parent.”

Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Amy Blank Ocampo said she was grateful the court imposed the maximum sentence for the case.

Between the six children, more than 60 service providers were involved in their rescue, evaluation, treatment and care.

Part of building the state’s case was reading through their many reports. The state was not able to move forward with felony charges of child abuse because there was not sufficient evidence of physical injury. Neglect of a minor is a misdemeanor charge.

“It was definitely more complex than any case I’ve had before,” she said.

Throughout the long court case, Ocampo said it was “helpful and therapeutic” to know that the children were in loving and caring homes, and she was thankful that her office had been able to proceed without bringing any of the children to court to testify, which could have been re-traumatizing.

In a statement of facts read during the trial, prosecutors detailed the condition of the Trapani home as it was found by investigators in November 2014, when occupied by Paul and Melissa Trapani, the six children and 11 dogs.

The state noted significant developmental delay due to neglect found in the two youngest children, who have since been diagnosed with symptoms consistent with the autism spectrum. They were unable to communicate verbally or respond to their own names on the day they were removed from the home by the Department of Social Services. Neither had been enrolled in school or an early intervention program.

They also called on testimony from Dr. Harper Johnston, the developmental psychologist assigned to the two youngest children. She described the delay in their development, and said in some aspects the actions of the 7-year-old child resembled that of a child as young as 6 to 9 months old. Because the age of rescue was older than 6, the child had passed the age where most children acquire verbal language and “may never be able to use speech as a primary method of communication.”

In a victim impact statement read later, the prosecution said the older children had never been to a supermarket or a restaurant, seen an escalator or the ocean, among other experiences. In foster care and eventual permanent adoption, they learned hygiene and social skills that had been completely absent in their upbringing.

The adoptive parent of three of the children gave an impact statement. He said the children were not yet strong enough to re-engage in contact with their parents. His hope was that they will someday start their own lives and families without duplicating the story of their past.

Ocampo said neighbors and educators at the older children’s school were the ones to report signs of possible neglect that allowed DSS to intervene.

“Any cell in the DOC is 1,000 times better than the conditions these children were forced to live in,” she said when asking for the maximum sentence.

During disposition, both defense attorneys argued for probation rather than incarceration.

Each noted that their clients’ upbringing had included abuse and neglect that affected their adult lives.

William Welch III, who represented Melissa Trapani, said following a move to Maryland in 2008, she was separated from her family members who had been assisting her with the care of the children. She left with no support as she cared for six children, several of them with special needs, while she herself dealt with mental illness.

In July 2017, Stansfiled ruled Melissa Trapani was criminally responsible for her actions.

Melissa Trapani spoke briefly during the sentencing. She said she hated every day during that period in her life.

“All I wanted was to get up and clean the house and take care of my kids,” she told the court. “I love my kids more than life itself and I never, ever wanted this to happen.”

Following the hearing, Welch said the defense would be sure to note if a request to file an appeal was made.

Chief attorney for the Carroll County Office of the Public Defender Judson Larrimore, who represented Paul Trapani, described him as a compulsive worker who provided financially for the family, but had developed inappropriate coping skills due to his upbringing.

“He should have acted, but I don’t think his failure to act was a conscious decision on his part,” he said.

He said the loss of children, job and home was already “pervasive and permanent” punishment.

Paul Trapani spoke during the sentencing hearing and spoke at length about his realizations since beginning therapy and medication, often pausing when he became emotional.

Trapani said it was a norm in military culture to delegate the management of the home to his wife and that, due to her mental state, the house had reached the state it was in November 2014.

In the process of therapy, he said, “the guilt started and its been with me ever since.”

“I pray someday that my children will forgive me. I’m not sure if they can, but I hope they do. At this point I’m not sure if I can forgive myself,” he said.

Larrimore had no comment following the sentencing.

catalina.righter@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-3315

twitter.com/Cat Righter

Editor's note: An earlier version of the story contained an error regarding the length of the sentence handed down by the judge. It has been corrected.
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