Zip-Tied 4-Year-Old: How Long Could Marlaine Victoria Coffey And Gerald Thomas Swinehart Spend Behind Bars For Child Abuse?

By Philip Ross on May 7, 2013 12:27 PM EDT

zip-tied 4-year-old
A 4-year-old North Carolina girl was reportedly bound with zip ties to a child security gate in her home. Authorities found bruising on the girl’s wrists and ankles where the zip-ties had been. (Photo: Creative Commons)

A zip-tied 4-year-old was taken into the custody of social services in North Carolina at the end of March after it was discovered that her parents had bound her wrists and ankles with zip ties and kicked and punched her in the face. At one point, the girl's front teeth broke through her bottom lip.

The child had been restrained to a child's gate by zip ties, the nylon cables electricians use to bunch electric cables or wires together.

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International Business Times reports that the parents, 26-year-old Gerald Thomas Swinehart and Marlaine Victoria Coffey, 28, were charged in the incident. They appeared before a judge on Monday in Wake County, N.C.

Authorities believe the child who was zip-tied was abused sometime in February and March, according to court documents. The zip-tied 4-year-old in North Carolina was rescued by social services on March 31.

According to the Inquisitor, Coffey checked the zip-tied 4-year-old girl into a hospital under a fake name before the couple took off to Florida, where they were later apprehended.

According to Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina, an organization that combats child abuse and neglect, there were 132,679 children referred to local social service departments between 2011 and 2012; 24 of these cases were fatal.

In 2010, Wake County, where the zip-tied 4-year-old was abused, had the third highest incidence of child abuse cases in 2010 among all the counties in North Carolina. The county had 583 reports of child abuse and neglect that year.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, reports that the total estimated lifetime financial costs of just one year of confirmed child maltreatment cases, including sexual, physical and psychological abuse, is about $124 billion.

The lifetime cost for each victim of child abuse -- for things like heath care costs associated with injuries, criminal justice costs, productivity losses and special education costs -- is estimated to be about $210,000.

According to the CDC, child abuse is linked to a number of emotional and behavioral health issues, including conduct behavior, delinquency, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, depression and suicide, among others.

"Federal, state, and local public health agencies as well as policymakers must advance the awareness of the lifetime economic impact of child maltreatment and take immediate action with the same momentum and intensity dedicated to other high profile public health problems -- in order to save lives, protect the public′s health, and save money," said Dr. Linda C. Degutis, director of CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, in a press release.

What charges do Swinehart and Coffey face, and how long could they spend behind bars for zip-tying their 4-year-old daughter to a gate?

Christian Science Monitor reports that Swinehart is charged with two counts of intentional child abuse inflicting serious physical injury, and Coffey faces one count of the same charge. Both are being held on bail under $100,000.  

If convicted, they could face multiple years in prison, as most states charge child abuses cases as felonies carrying harsh penalties -- even lifetime imprisonment.

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