Butler County Judge Matthew Crehan said he wasn't convinced she had been confined to the basement for long periods, but pointed to other forms of mistreatment including the parents at least once forcing her to eat peanut butter until she vomited. Ruling after a three-day nonjury trial in juvenile court, he said the girl wasn't fed properly and was treated differently from other children in the home.
"There is no doubt that this was a dysfunctional household," Crehan said in his order.
Forty-year-old Shawn Blackston and Joanna Blackston, 37, of Middletown each face up to six months in jail on the misdemeanor count.
Crehan said evidence showed that the girl was pale, thin and had sunken eyes when found in July by investigators acting on an anonymous complaint. She weighed 74 pounds then and has gained 32 pounds since while in foster care.
He said evidence showed that the girl had chosen to have her bedroom in the basement and he ruled that the corporal punishment the couple used wasn't illegally unreasonable. But he noted punishments such as restrictions on showering, amounts of toilet paper and on use of a toothbrush. She was excluded from eating with other family members and from family movie nights. He also said the couple subjected her to "vulgar and demoralizing language."
The couple had contended the girl often misbehaved, threatened the other children, and needed discipline. They said the basement door was locked to keep toddlers in the home from falling down the stairs.
They declined to comment after the ruling.
On Thursday, defense attorney Ched Peck said the state hadn't proved its case, but commented: "There is no doubt counseling was needed in this family. There were probably too many kids in this house."
The couple had a total eight children between them, six from prior marriages, court records show. Separate proceedings will determine what will happen with children who were removed to foster case, including the 12-year-old girl.
The woman is a nurse in a nursing home, while the man is unemployed, according to court records.
Sentencing on the child endangering convictions will be Dec. 18.