TULSA, Okla. – Authorities used a backhoe to dig up a junk-cluttered property in rural eastern Oklahoma on Friday, searching for the body of a baby born to a young girl whose parents have been arrested on child abuse charges. The girl told officials her father helped her deliver the child at home, told her it was dead and buried it behind a goat pen.
LeFlore County District Attorney Jeff Smith said investigators were looking for the infant girl's body at the vast property outside of Poteau, a town of about 8,500 located about 10 miles from the Arkansas state line. He declined to comment further on the details of the case.
The girl's parents, who were taken into custody Tuesday in a grocery store parking lot near Mena, Ark., were arrested on multiple charges of child abuse and endangerment. An application for exhumation of a body filed by Smith's office alleges that one of the nine siblings taken into emergency custody by the state because of "extreme physical and educational neglect" told investigators she and her younger sibling had been sexually abused by their father.
The husband and wife were being held Friday in the LeFlore County Detention Center on $275,000 bond and are awaiting a court date, which Smith said would likely be next week. Smith said he was not aware if either had an attorney, and court records did not indicate that they did.
"All I can say is our investigation is ongoing," Smith said. "This appears to be a very serious matter and could possibly be a very complicated matter."
The Associated Press is withholding the names of the parents so as not to identify the children, because the AP does not generally identify the victims of alleged sexual abuse.
One of the siblings told police that she had a baby at home in August 2010 that was delivered by her father. She told authorities she thought a boy she met at camp may have been the father, according to the exhumation request. The girl told authorities that the child did not cry and that her father told her it was dead. The baby was given a name and then the girl's father buried it on the property "in the woods behind the goat pen."
The exhumation report also said a check of records in Oklahoma indicated that neither the child's birth nor death was reported to the state, as is required.
Investigators were using heavy equipment Friday to dig up the far northeast corner of the vast property, and the road leading there was cordoned off. A black tarp blocked the view of the site from the road.
The tiny wooden home on the property is run-down and an old camper, farm machinery, stacks of firewood and a couple of boats were strewn nearby. A sign on the metal gate outside the house warned passers-by to keep out. Goats, cows and least one chicken wandered about the property. Piles of dirt were unearthed in a nearby pasture, but it wasn't clear whether investigators dug them up during the search.
A sign along the nearby road cautioned motorists to slow down because children were playing.
Court documents from Kansas show that the father arrested this week was charged with aggravated incest nearly two decades ago. In the 1993 court filing, Montgomery County prosecutors charged that the man "willfully, wrongfully, unlawfully and feloniously engage(d) in an unlawful sex act" with his 8-year-old daughter. The girl's mother, who divorced the man and is not the woman arrested this week, is listed on the court filing as a witness.
The charges were dismissed several months after they were filed. Court records don't cite a reason and Roger Gossard, the attorney who represented the man in the Kansas case, said he didn't remember why the case was dismissed.
"I don't recall the facts of the case," said Gossard, who is now a district judge in Coffeyville, Kan.
A woman who answered the phone at a number listed for the man's ex-wife declined to comment Friday.
Nuss reported from Little Rock, Ark. AP freelance photographer April Brown contributed to this report from Poteau.
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