Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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November 16, 2013

The Girl in the Closet, PART 6 OF 8

Nurse recorded 8-year-old Lauren’s weight at 25.6 pounds

(Continued)

Athens — ‘The stronger case’

Patricia Hogue, who was head of the district attorney’s child-abuse division, has been described by detectives as “meaner than three snakes dipped in kerosene.”

It was meant as a compliment.

“It was a big case, and there was a lot of media attention,” said Hogue, now an attorney for a nonprofit focused on child-abuse issues.

“Obviously, I was aware of that and that’s why I was handling the case. I didn’t want this one coming back on appeal, because she [Lauren] just couldn’t handle that.”

While there was never any real doubt about Barbara and Kenneth Atkinson’s guilt — based on the damage done to Lauren’s body and their confessions — they were never tried for sexual assault.

Both denied raping Lauren.

Kenneth Atkinson was charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child, but those charges were dropped when prosecutors learned Lauren could not testify.

She acted out some of the abuse during play therapy, where she said the “bad dad hurt me,” and demonstrated by poking a hand and thumb into the vagina of an anatomically-correct doll, according to court documents.

She then hit the doll over and over between the legs, moaned in pain, screamed and growled.

But Lauren would not verbalize what happened to her. When asked, she would shut down, narrow her eyes and stare into space.

Psychologists said it could take years of therapy before she would feel safe enough to put the abuse into words.

“Lauren was so developmentally traumatized and emotionally traumatized, she really wasn’t in any condition to talk about the sexual abuse,” Hogue said. “We went with the stronger case, and the one that wouldn’t require her to testify.”

Victim and victimizer

“Think about how

Lauren felt.”

Barbara Atkinson’s trial unfolded methodically — medical testimony, police reports and psychologists’ statements — until the moment prosecutors unrolled the closet carpet in front of the jury.

Almost in unison, the panel leaned forward to get a closer look, and then recoiled at the stench.

Barbara Atkinson pleaded guilty to felony injury to a child midway through her trial to spare two of her children from testifying. But the jury still had to deliberate her sentence.

Watch Monday’s editor for Part 7 of 8 parts in which Lauren improves.

The original series of Girl in Closet published in the Dallas Morning News. For video interviews visit the Dallas Morning News website at dallasnews.com/interactives/2013_October/lauren/.

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