EVERGREEN, Colo. -- An Evergreen couple accused of starving their 6-year-old daughter, who was brought to a hospital weighing only 25 pounds, have pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury.
Jason Barton and Katherine Barton entered their pleas Monday and face up to 24 years in prison, according to the Denver Post.
Doctors told Jefferson County sheriff's investigators that the girl had suffered long-term malnutrition, "likening her appearance to that of concentration camp victims," according to the arrest affidavit. The child was on the edge of severe malnutrition, to the point her organs would have started to shut down, a nutritionist said.
The Bartons claimed the girl had autism and was "out of control" and not a social child. They said the girl had a habit of stealing and hoarding food and that's why the family's refrigerator, freezer and pantries were locked. Because she had a habit of overeating and then vomiting, they would limit her food intake, they explained.
Katie and Jason Barton told detectives they tried to punish her initially by placing her on time-out but that didn't work. So they would punish her by making her run up and down the stairs inside the house and do "laps" on the driveway.
The Bartons took the girl to Children's Hospital on June 10, 2015, telling doctors she had been unable to gain weight for the past two years and she had "food issues."
Doctors noted that the 6-year-old had the average weight of a 24-month-old child and the height of a 3-year-old.
They examined the girl and told detectives she had a concave abdomen, "temporal wasting consistent with malnutrition" and "pitting edema on her lower extremities after lying in bed for a period of time, indicating she was not retaining protein."
Doctors also told investigators the girl did not have autism, or any behavioral or social disorder, and did not have any medical, psychological or genetic reason that would explain the weight loss.
In fact, the girl gained weight within the first 48 hours of being admitted to the hospital, and gained four pounds in one week.
While investigators questioned the girl in front of her parents, the deputies said she would always look at her mom before answering any question from an investigator, according to the affidavit.
At the hospital, medical staff said they saw Katie Barton often telling the girl to stop eating or that she was eating too much.
"Staff noted several times that Katie would tell [the girl] that she was full and did not need to eat anymore. Staff noted Katie said [the girl] 'could not eat the eggs and bacon depending on the size of her pancake, and that she is to listen to her and not eat too much food. When [the girl] would reach for food or something to drink, Katie would push [the girl's' hand away and tell [the girl] she was in charge of the food. Katie also made [the girl] do jumping jacks before eating, according to medical staff," the affidavit stated.
Yet Katie Barton would "taunt" the girl by showing her how much she herself was eating and drinking, the affidavit said.
Katie would show "her a full carton of milk then [drink] it. After finishing the chocolate milk, which is [the girl's] favorite, Katie held it in front of [the girl's] face to show her there was nothing left in the container."
The Jefferson County Human Services were tipped to the case on June 1 by someone who was concerned about the girl's weight and the fact that she was pulled out of kindergarten this year. The tipster said the girl was not allowed to have birthday cake while the other children were able to eat cake and other food items.
The Bartons told school administrators that they were removing her from school to enroll her in a clinic at Children's Hospital to deal with her food issues, but hospital officials said the child was never enrolled there, the affidavit states.
The Bartons told investigators they had a psychologist, social worker, speech therapist, geneticist and endocrinologist all helping them with the girls' issues. They said they had started looking for help when they lived in North Carolina three years ago. They said the problem worsened when she enrolled in kindergarten in Colorado because that's when she was "manipulative and taking items from her teachers and other students."
Katie Barton told investigators something was emotionally wrong with her because she "does not show empathy or sympathy for her siblings and does not say 'I love you' when they say it to her."
The girl is now in the custody of Jefferson County Human Services.