Lawrence police officers testified Tuesday that they were told Adolfo and Deborah Gomez tied up and blindfolded their 5- and 7-year-old children in a Walmart parking lot in June because they believed the kids were possessed by demons.
Douglas County District Judge Paula Martin ruled at the conclusion of a preliminary hearing that the suburban Chicago couple should face a trial on two counts each of child abuse for the incident.
“This is not the type of punishment that a parent disciplines a child with,” Assistant Douglas County District Attorney Deborah Moody said in a closing argument accusing the couple of conducting inhumane corporal punishment.
The family was traveling from their home in Northlake, Ill., with their two younger children and three older ones — ages 12, 15 and 16 — to see a relative in Arizona before their Chevrolet Suburban broke down on Interstate 70, causing the couple and their five children to stop in Lawrence. Two days later, police were called when a shopper, Linda Baranski, saw a girl tied up near the Suburban.
“At that point, I thought it might have been some sort of abduction,” Baranski testified Tuesday.
Tuesday’s hearing provided more details about the events leading up to the scene late in the morning on June 13 outside Walmart, 550 Congressional Drive.
Demons, world ending
Detective Randy Glidewell said Adolfo Gomez, 52, told him in an interview shortly after the children were found that he had not used “alcohol, drugs or acid” for about a month prior because his wife, Deborah, 44, said she would leave him.
He also told Glidewell that he had been listening to a man he described as a “prophet” on the Internet. The family believed that the world was coming to an end and that their house in Illinois was possessed by demons, Glidewell said, so they tried to drive to Arizona to see the couple’s oldest son.
They had also sold their possessions in a yard sale before they embarked on their trip.
In Lawrence, according to Glidewell, Gomez said he believed the 5-year-old boy was possessed by demons partly due to shifting of his eyebrows and sticking his tongue out and the fact that he was misbehaving toward the other children.
Gomez told the detective he had tied up the boy once the night before his arrest and then that morning to keep him away from the other children.
But prosecutors argued the parents bound two younger children several times in the parking lot before they were arrested because they were acting up and interrupting a frequent Bible study the family had inside the Suburban.
“The children were misbehaving, and this behavior caused them to be tied up by their father,” Moody said.
Lawrence police Officer Hayden Fowler testified the 12-year-old girl said Adolfo Gomez required the younger children to be tied up periodically to keep their hands and legs from making a V-shape, which the girl said was a sign of the devil. The children’s eyes also were covered, and the family covered windows of the vehicle “because demons were outside the Suburban,” Fowler said. The officer said the girl also mentioned an attempt by the parents “to cast out the demons” from the two younger children, but she did not elaborate.
According to Fowler’s testimony, the 12-year-old girl had also said the family talked about not wanting to kill the demons because “if the demons were to die, then (the younger children) would die as well.”
Earlier in the hearing, an officer testified the couple’s 7-year-old girl said she asked to be bound because she was misbehaving and hitting her older siblings. The 5-year-old boy, who was found with a soiled diaper, told officers Adolfo Gomez had told him not to remove the bindings.
Deborah Gomez’s defense attorney, Angela Keck, argued her client was working to protect her children and herself from Adolfo Gomez.
But prosecutors argued Deborah Gomez did help bind the children. Officer Nathaniel Haig also said that when he came to the scene, Deborah Gomez was inside the store with a baseball bat, duct tape and two tarps in her shopping cart while the children were tied up outside.
“It’s pure speculation to assume that what she was buying had anything to do with any criminal intent whatsoever,” Keck said.
Prosecutors said Deborah Gomez also refused a request from police to go to the vehicle to talk to her children, who were too scared to get out of the Suburban.
“She had occasion to help, but she went shopping for duct tape, two tarps and a baseball bat.” Moody said.
Adolfo Gomez’s defense attorney Elbridge Griffy said the Gomezes’ actions were based on their own religious beliefs, and he suggested the children even felt safe being blindfolded and bound based on the family’s beliefs. He said officers testified the children were calm when they arrived.
“Whether you agree with that or not, families in the United States are afforded a very wide berth in how they deal with issues or religion, education and discipline,” Griffy said. “These parents were doing the best that they could do with the beliefs they had to protect these children. And these children knew they had loving and protected parents.”
Martin did agree with defense attorneys on one issue: She found prosecutors did not present enough evidence to support five counts each of felony aggravated child endangerment. Witnesses had testified about the conditions inside the vehicle the family was living in. Police said they found rotting food, bottles of urine and trash inside the vehicle.
“These children were living in deplorable conditions,” Moody said.
But defense attorneys said the children had no physical injuries, and the couple did provide food and water for them. Martin said conditions in the vehicle were “not ideal.”
“Certainly that’s an environment that may cause health problems, but the state presented no evidence as to what those health problems are,” Martin said.
Moody said prosecutors would instead file five misdemeanor child endangerment charges each against Deborah and Adolfo Gomez to match the two felony child abuse counts.
Adolfo Gomez also faces a felony obstruction charge for resisting officers when they approached the vehicle. Martin is scheduled to arraign the couple Thursday.