SNOW HILL -- A Berlin woman was sentenced to 30 years in prison yesterday in the fatal beating of her 8-year-old adopted son, a crime that Circuit Judge Theodore R. Eschenberg Sr. called "almost too heinous to comprehend."
Catherine Marie Hudson, who pleaded guilty last month to manslaughter and child abuse, sat impassively through much of the hourlong hearing in the packed courtroom as faculty members from Buckingham Elementary School tearfully related their frustration with the Worcester County Department of Social Services.
Teachers and a former principal of the Berlin school denounced child welfare officials who did not remove the child, Shamir Hudson, and his two younger siblings from Hudson's home despite more than two dozen reports of possible child abuse filed by educators.
"These children were slowly tortured," said kindergarten teacher Diane H. Raines. "Every time we tried to intervene, the Department of Social Services said our reports were unfounded."
Shamir Hudson was found beaten to death March 24 in a bedroom of Hudson's mobile home. An autopsy determined that the child died of wounds of every "size, age and direction,"
including a broken rib, a lacerated liver and hemorrhaging from his head. According to police reports, a burn on the child's arm and two open wounds on his legs were covered with duct tape.
School officials also reported suspected abuse of Shamir's 7-year-old brother, Shamale, and his 6-year-old sister, Sharnae. All three children had been adopted by Hudson, 57, in 1995 after living about a year with her as foster children.
A review of the case by the state Department of Human Resources and an independent audit by the Child Welfare League of America found that case workers had followed proper procedures in investigating complaints.
As a result of the internal investigation, child protective officials have created a team of professionals that includes social services officials, school administrators, police and prosecutors to review complaints and administrative policy, said Paula Erbie, who heads the Worcester County department.
"The interdisciplinary team has already begun meeting, and we believe that the safeguards we've put in place will assure better communication," Erbie said. "We hope that as difficult as this tragedy has been that at least this has prompted changes."
Eschenberg said he hoped the case would lead to reforms in the way child abuse cases are handled.
"This has to be the saddest and most brutal case I have witnessed in my years on the bench," he said before imposing the 30-year sentence. "The system whose mission it is to protect children has failed miserably."
Outside the courtroom yesterday, a group of Buckingham Elementary teachers, all wearing red heart pins that matched the red flag that is being flown at the school as a symbol of their protest, said they have little faith in social services officials.
"We don't like to point the finger, but we know where the ball was dropped," said Raines. "We simply don't trust them anymore. We were told we were over-reacting when we reported abuse. It will take a long time to restore any kind of trust."
Dressed in a print dress, Hudson, a lifelong resident of Berlin who has two grown children, showed little emotion as teachers and others in the courtroom wept openly.
"I am sorry for what has happened," Hudson said. "I ask forgiveness from the school, my church family and God."
Pub Date: 10/06/98