13 Nov 2010

Baptist parents found guilty of extreme corporal punishment of kids claim religious persecution

Katu News - Portland, Oregon December 4, 2009

Parents found guilty in child abuse case

By Melica Johnson | KATU News and KATU.com Staff

SALEM, Ore. - A couple accused by their children of abusing them were found guilty of criminal mistreatment late Friday night.

A Marion County jury found Oleksandr Kozlov guilty on nine out of 10 counts of criminal mistreatment in the first degree of his children.

His wife, Lyudmila, was also found guilty on nine out of 10 counts of criminal mistreatment in the first degree.

The judge declared the 10th count a mistrial because the jury didn’t have a lawful verdict.

Their children said they were hit with wires, belts, cords, and sticks by their Ukrainian parents, but the parents said their kids made it all up to avoid following their religious rules.

Oleksandr Kozlov, who during the trial said God was his attorney, took the witness stand in Marion County Court Friday and denied abusing his children, and when asked whether he beat his children with a branch, he said he only used it to scare them.

“I would say it was not a stick. It was a light branch,” he said through a Russian translator.

Oleksandr and his wife said they were being persecuted for their religious beliefs, and members of their Salem Baptist Church - who packed the courtroom Friday - said they believed the kids were lying about being abused.

The children’s Sunday school teacher, who took the stand in the Kozlov’s defense, took a long time to answer a question about whether he would report child abuse.

“I’m going to ask you one more time,” said Courtland Geyer, Marion County deputy district attorney. “Do you have any idea under Oregon law you are a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse? Yes or no.”

“I will not make a call like that even if I get arrested,” the teacher said, also through an interpreter.

Four of the Kozlov’s seven children went to a payphone to report the abuse to authorities. Prosecutors said one of the couple’s daughters, who is 13, was severely beaten for cutting her hair.

Sentencing for the couple is scheduled for 8:45 a.m., Thursday, Dec. 10.

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Statesman Journal - Orgeon December 4, 2009

Abuse trial pits church against state

By Stacey Barchenger | Statesman Journal

For Oleksandr and Lyudmila Kozlov, God's laws and state laws are clashing in a Marion County courtroom this week.

The Kozlovs are accused of abusing four of their seven children and each parent faces 10 counts of criminal mistreatment.

But Oleksandr, 41, and Lyudmila, 39, Kozlov have said they were punishing their children according to God's law, which they said is the highest law. They are representing themselves in their trial, which continues for a fourth day today.

Testimony of their six oldest children finished on Thursday.

The Kozlovs asked each child if they understood that their parents were disciplining the children according to Scripture.

"It doesn't say that you have to leave marks on us," their 9-year-old daughter said.

The Statesman Journal does not name children who are victims of alleged crimes.

"Do you understand that you are going to answer those words to God?" Lyudmila Kozlova asked the girl.

But the question went unanswered. Circuit Judge Thomas Hart intervened.

"You cannot be asking questions or making statements designed to make her feel guilty or obliged by your religion," Hart said.

"While I understand your beliefs, I have to apply the rules of law here."

When each of the three children, ages 12, 11 and 9, took the stand Thursday, the Kozlovs made statements that the judge said were inappropriate for cross examination.

"My little bunny, I love you," Lyudmila Kozlova told her 11-year-old son.

Those statements are not appropriate, Hart said.

"You cannot do that to an 11-year-old, you did not ask a question," Hart told Kozlova.

"You made gratuitous statements in order to put pressure on an 11-year-old boy, who happens to be your son."

Kozlova asked Hart to understand she hadn't seen her children in four months and missed them. But Hart ordered her removed from the courtroom.

The boy, still in the witness box, watched as his mother was lifted from her chair and escorted into a holding room by a security deputy.

Kozlova was returned to the courtroom while the jury was briefly dismissed.

"Ms. Kozlova, I am a judge. There are rules here. No matter what I feel inside, I must abide by the rules," Hart said. The Kozlovs must also abide by the rules, he said.

The children have testified that they were hit by both parents with a wire, belts, a leather leash, a radio cord, an iron cord, sticks and by their parent's hands. Several of the children said the oldest three, ages 15, 14 and 13, were hit more than the younger three.

"They didn't hit us really hard," the 9-year-old girl said.

The marks the children got on their arms, backs, buttocks and legs lasted days, the children said.

Marion County sheriff's Detective Mathieu LaCrosse said the boy was once hit so severely with a leather leash he was forced to miss a week of school.

LaCrosse was the lead detective on the case.

He interviewed the boy and his two oldest sisters while they were in shelter care after being removed from their parents' home in July, LaCrosse said.

The boy told the detective he was blamed for losing a tool, LaCrosse said. Oleksandr Kozlov began hitting the boy with the leather leash, LaCrosse said.

"One of the strikes had come across and hit him in the cheek and actually broke the skin," LaCrosse said.

One of the girls told LaCrosse that the abuse had increased in frequency and severity after Oleksandr Kozlov "became Christian," LaCrosse said.

The Kozlovs emigrated from the Ukraine in 2003 and since have lived in three different places in the Salem area.

"With each move, subsequently the abuse became more great," LaCrosse said.

The 13-year-old girl was the most outgoing of the group he interviewed, LaCrosse said. She also suffered the most severe injuries from her mother after cutting her hair, the detective said.

"She said she got to the point where she felt she was going to be hit for anything," LaCrosse said.

A teacher once noticed an injury on the boy's arm and asked about it, but he said it was an accident, LaCrosse said. The children were afraid they'd be punished if someone found out about the abuse, LaCrosse said.

The oldest girl put her arms up to shield herself during beatings, hoping someone would notice the marks on her arms, LaCrosse said.

That same girl was once hit so hard by her mother she said she nearly passed out, LaCrosse said.

The three oldest children were forced to kneel on the kitchen floor for more than five hours after one took coffee from the kitchen, according to several of the children.

Their mother whipped them and made them read passages from a book, LaCrosse said. The 15-year-old girl began to wobble, LaCrosse said.

The child "described that the light around her appeared to be coming through a tunnel," LaCrosse said.

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