VANCOUVER, Wash. -- Two autistic boys held in a caged bedroom were regularly fed breakfast and lunch made by him, the brother testified Wednesday in a Clark County unlawful imprisonment case.
The boy, 10, said his younger brothers were allowed outside twice a month and on holidays.
John Eckhart, 31, and Alayna Higdon, 27, of Vancouver couple are charged with unlawful imprisonment of Eckhart's sons, ages 5 and 7, between October 2010 and April 2011.
The boy who testified Wednesday is Higdon's son.
The prosecution argues that they kept the two young autistic boys in a dark room with a cage-like door for convenience. The defense counters that the child-proofing was intended to keep the children from harming themselves.
Deputy Prosecutor Dustin Richardson said Eckhart was known to take hours-long smoking breaks, leaving the boys' 9-year-old older brother to watch them, The Columbian reported. The prosecution also said the father played video games during the day. Higdon, a college student, was away from home most days.
However, defense lawyer Jon McMullen said the makeshift door was Eckhart's effort to increase the apartment's child safety after less-restrictive measures failed.
The boys could easily escape a baby gate and other restraints and were known to wander from the apartment at night, McMullen said.
On Wednesday testified that he fed the younger siblings toaster waffles for breakfast and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. Sometimes, the meals were passed through a small gate into the room, sometimes it was open, he said.
Also, the family ate dinner together, jurors heard from the youngster. The two autistic boys were allowed outside twice a month, and on holidays, he said.
Psychologists will testify that the makeshift gate was appropriate considering the boys' risk to themselves, McMullen added. The boys were only let out of the room for treats and a daily bath, the deputy prosecutor said. The bedroom had no toys, no light and only a child-sized race car bed without bedding.
Richardson said he planned to present evidence that the boys are now able to function properly without being locked up. The older child is in a foster home, while the younger lives with his biological mother in Tillamook, Ore.
During a pre-trial hearing Monday, the defense asked the judge to bar witnesses from using the terms "cage" and "cage-like door." "There was no cage. This was just a bedroom with a modified door," McMullen said.
Judge Robert Lewis said he wasn't going to micromanage what words witnesses can use.
Photos show Eckhart blocked the room's entry with wire shelving bolted so that it covered the entire doorway and locked in the middle with a carabiner-type lock. Police described it as a cage-like door.
Conviction for unlawful imprisonment carries a standard sentencing range of one to three months in jail.