John F. Pilachowski testified yesterday in Baltimore County ,, Circuit Court that he sometimes found his young stepson's behavior "unacceptable," but he tearfully denied smashing the 4-year-old's head into a table last October, leaving the child with a paralyzed left arm and a severe limp in the left leg.
Judge Barbara Kerr Howe didn't believe Pilachowski's story. Ruling from the bench, she convicted the Parkville man of child abuse, assault and battery of Anthony Roark, now 5.
Anthony also testified, telling Judge Howe that his stepfather pushed his head into a table.
The abuse charge covered Anthony's life from birth to last Oct. 21, when the boy was rushed to Franklin Square hospital with a near-fatal swelling of the brain that sent him into a seizure and left him unconscious for days.
Judge Howe, who heard the three-day case without a jury, ordered a presentence investigation and revoked the 29-year-old defendant's bail. The maximum penalty for child abuse is 15 years in prison.
A small, slim man with neatly styled beard and hair, Pilachowski said that he was disabled in a fall through a roof while working.
Assistant State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger suggested that Pilachowski's frustration at being disabled and housebound with the children fueled domestic violence, which led his wife to call the police several times to their home, first in the 7800 block of E. Collingham Drive, and later in the 8100 block of Ridgetown Drive.
Police took photographs of Anthony's bumps and bruises on two of these visits, but no charges were filed at the time. The photos were used as evidence at the trial.
Pilachowski's wife, Deborah, is seeking a divorce. Pilachowski moved in with a brother in Baltimore.
Defense attorney Peter Lewis tried to show that Anthony was clumsy, and he had Pilachowski recount nine different slips and falls the boy had taken since he was a toddler.
But Dr. Howard Dubowitz, director of the Child Protection Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, testified Thursday that the boy's injuries -- bleeding around the brain and behind the eyes -- resulted from a direct blow to the head or a severe shaking.
"These are not the kind of injuries that occur from rough-house playing or a 4-year-old tripping and bumping his head on the floor," Dr. Dubowitz said. "These are severe findings that were the result of some serious act of abuse."
Mrs. Pilachowski recounted one incident that prompted a police and social services visit when Anthony was 3. Her husband had held the boy by the feet over the toilet. Other times, she said, he pushed or poked Anthony and butted heads with the toddler.
She left her husband several times, beginning in 1991, taking Anthony and their son, John Pilachowski, now 3, with her, she said.
Pilachowski said with bitter emotion that his wife participated in the toilet incident, telling Anthony that he had to behave as she playfully flushed the toilet.
"Anthony thought I was his real father. . . . We sort of did everything together," Pilachowski said.
But he told the prosecutor the boy's behavior was unacceptable "because I was brought up, when you do something, you should be corrected."