KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A Jackson County judge on Tuesday found a couple not guilty of assaulting and endangering the welfare of their eight-year-old niece.
Their lawyer spoke with reporters after the ruling.
"This was a couple who had taken in two children that had essentially been left at their door step by their mother who was completely unwilling to care for them,” Molly Hastings, attorney, said. “They had a new baby of their own. They were both struggling to make ends meet. They had very little support from other folks in their families.”
The couple, Michele Kraft, 30, and Jeffrey Kraft, 36, were arrested in August 2012 when authorities, acting on a tip, say they found the girl, who is now 10 years old, malnourished and locked in a filthy room that reeked of urine.
"I think that being poor does not automatically translate to being a terrible, abusive parent," Hastings said of her clients.
Judge Robert Schieber agreed, saying the Krafts tried to be a parent to a troubled child and made some poor decisions under difficult circumstances.
When the girl was found, prosecutors said she weighed just 42 pounds.
According to court documents, the child told police that she was locked in her bedroom for days at a time and that her aunt and uncle routinely hit her and only allowed her to bathe once a month.
Relatives told FOX 4 that the child had behavioral problems and the couple may have gotten in over their heads and needed to find help with the child, known as GW, of whom they had legal custody. Jeffrey and Michele were made legal guardians of GW and her little sister, then five years old, in 2008 when the girls were reportedly abandoned by their parents. According to authorities, in the four years she lived with her aunt and uncle, GW did not go to school, lost six pounds, and grew only an inch.
The couple agreed to a bench trial, which meant Judge Schieber would hear the evidence and decide the case, rather than a jury.
On Tuesday, in his ruling, Judge Schieber said the couple made bad parenting decisions and won't win 'Parents of the Year', but he said he did not consider what they did 'criminal'.
Judge Schieber said the girl is a 'slight, skinny kid, but not malnourished.'
The couple declined to speak with reporters after Tuesday's ruling. Hastings said the couple hadn’t been able to communicate with one another for about a year and a half during the case. They’re now trying to regain custody of their three-year-old daughter, who was taken away by the state while the child abuse case was being investigated. They haven’t had unsupervised contact with her since she was eight months old.