DETROIT - A judge dismissed torture charges Wednesday against the father and stepmother of a missing Detroit boy found in his basement after 11 days, saying she doesn't believe he was stuck there and was paralyzed by fear last summer during a highly publicized search by police.
"He never yelled out. He never stood up. He never made himself known," Judge Shannon Holmes said after hearing testimony over many days. "I just don't believe him. I don't believe he was in that basement."
Nonetheless, the judge ordered Charlie Bothuell and Monique Dillard-Bothuell to trial on second-degree child abuse charges, based on photos of the 13-year-old's body.
The boy, whose name also is Charlie Bothuell, said he was forced to follow a rigorous exercise regimen while educated at home and was struck with a stick or PVC pipe if he disappointed his dad and stepmother. He says his home was a "terrible place."
Defense lawyers, however, said Charlie was lying and had many opportunities to leave the house during his time in the basement - a key point embraced by the judge. They claimed he simply ran away because he didn't like his home.
The dismissal of the torture charge was a big victory for the couple, because the crime can carry up to life in prison. The Bothuells cried with relief and hugged their defense lawyers.
In her final argument, prosecutor Carin Goldfarb said Charlie was a "prisoner in his home," and the elder Bothuell was the "warden." She said the boy's disappearance brought to light years of physical and mental abuse and isolation.
"He was so terrorized, even when the police were looking for him he did not speak up" in the basement, Goldfarb told the judge.
But Holmes said it doesn't seem reasonable that the boy wouldn't call for help.
The child abuse charge carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison. The couple will appear next in Wayne County court on July 8.