Fight to expand child abuse laws in spotlight after Sherwood case

Fight to expand child abuse laws in spotlight

PORTLAND, Ore. -- An ongoing fight to change child abuse laws in Oregon is under a microscope, following a headline grabbing case of a Sherwood toddler, beaten black and blue.

Joshua Marbury and Alicia Quinney said their son’s babysitter, Markell Hilaire, confessed to hitting one-year-old son Jacob.

Still, prosecutors told the young couple filing charges against Hilaire would be difficult for two reasons.

The first is that Jacob can’t talk or describe what happened.

The second centers around his injuries, which are limited to bruises.

Under Oregon state law, bruises alone aren’t severe enough of an injury to prove a crime occurred.

“Everyone wants to protect our children. We want to protect our most vulnerable,” said State Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham). “Actually I'm disgusted that we haven't been able to be successful.”

Anderson, along with other state lawmakers, has tried twice in the last two years to expand Oregon’s abuse laws.

A few months ago, she helped introduce SB 1556, which would have made it easier to prove abuse in cases with “vulnerable victims,” which she says was meant to include young children and the elderly.

It also lists punctures, cuts and bruises under the state’s definition of “physical trauma."

The bill didn’t even make it out of the Senate judiciary committee.

But some say, if it had, it would have created problems of a different kind.

“It's a lot harder to look at someone accused of that and say ‘This person is innocent until proven guilty,’” said Edward Kroll, about child abuse accusations.

Kroll is the president of Oregon’s Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. He says what happened to little Jacob is horrific. He also says lowering the bar for proving abuse occurred is tricky.

Kroll points to his experience working in family law.

“You'd see a parent say when they picked up little Johnny from the other parent, he had a bruise on his arm, and that must mean the other parent is abusing him,” he said. “If that was all it took, in certain circumstances, then we could have a lot of false reports.”

Sen. Anderson says she and others are working with attorneys to keep the language of these bills as specific as possible.

She says they plan to introduce another one later this year.

For now, prosecutors in Washington County are resorting to working around that law.

Hilaire was arraigned on multiple felony counts Monday, including 3rd and 4th degree assault.

Prosecutors admit, they had to pull strings to do it. They won’t even say how they did it.


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