Abusive couple sentenced to long prison terms
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon mother and father convicted of beating their children with pipes, 2-by-4 boards and other objects were both sentenced to spend at least two decades in prison.
Marion County Judge Thomas Hart sentenced Graydon Drown on Wednesday to 29 years in prison. Robyn Drown got 20 years. The sentences were longer, by at least two years, than what was recommended by prosecutors.
“God did bless you with these children,” Hart said when sentencing Robyn Drown, 42. “And you did not do for your children what God did for you.”
The children were taken by state welfare authorities after the Drowns were arrested June 19 at their rural home in Turner. The nine kids are now under the care of six different foster homes. At the time of the arrests, they ranged in age from 6 weeks to 16 years old.
The abuse became known after two teenage boys confided in a rabbi.
The children who lived with the Drowns reportedly didn’t see dentists or doctors and didn’t go to school. Agnes and Kevin Opgenorth, who are caring for two of the children, said some of the Drown children didn’t know the months, the days of the week or the difference between a Torah and a Bible, despite the father’s professed Judaism.
Child-abuse victims’ lives were ‘a horror story’
On the surface, the household was a bit unusual — two adults and nine children crammed into a 1,500-square-foot, 30-year-old three-bedroom home in rural Turner.
Inside the home, Robyn and Graydon Drown led a family life few knew of or even could conceive.
Graydon Drown, 49, and Robyn Drown, 42, will spend at least 20 years in prison for abusing and neglecting nine of their children.
Seven children testified during a five-day trial that they were beaten regularly, beginning when they were very young. As each child grew, so did the weapon of beating — starting with spoons or paddles and increasing in severity.
The children never went to school or saw a doctor or a dentist, aside from when the boys were taken to a doctor to be circumcised after they were born. Their father, professing to be Jewish, took the family to attend Temple Beth Sholom in South Salem, where the children experienced their interaction with the outside world.
Two of the older sons disclosed the abuse to Salem Rabbi Avrohom Perlstein, who notified authorities, as well as a leader at the temple, Les Gutfreund.
The list of weapons used to beat the children was repeated continually during trial: 2-by-4 boards, metal pipes, plastic pipes, plastic spoons and whips. A heavy, three-foot-long metal pipe and a fiberglass segment of a tent pole — long, thin and with a knotted elastic cord dangling from one end — was shown to the jury as evidence.
Sometimes, the children said, the beatings would revolve around the moods of their parents.
One of the sons’ vision was badly damaged because his nearsightedness was left uncorrected — his father maintained that God would cure his eyesight and refused to allow the son to wear glasses, the boy testified.
Illnesses seemed to be treated by home remedies: one child suffered from multiple strep throat infections and was forced to drink hot pepper sauce. A foster parent wrote to the judge that the child will require surgery because the infections developed into a chronic illness.
Robyn and Graydon Drown were raised in Alaska, about 100 miles apart. Both of their families attended the Worldwide Church of God, a fundamentalist sect dictated by oversight from church elders and stringent moral codes.
When Graydon Drown moved to Anchorage, Alaska, as a young man, it was closer to Robyn Drown’s family, and they began dating.
Later, while he was studying at Ambassador College, the church’s college in Texas, Graydon Drown wrote a letter to Robyn and told her that God ordained her to be his wife, just as Rebecca became Isaac’s wife in the Bible.
Robyn Drown’s parents, Roger and Sandra Lewis, described to the jury how their daughter increasingly was under the control of her husband. The Lewises spoke of times when Robyn left Graydon to seek shelter with them, but eventually returned.
In 1990, the Drowns’ three oldest children, who were 4 years, 21 months and 7 months old at the time, were removed from their parents’ care amid allegations of abuse.
The oldest daughter recently described being spanked numerous times for the infraction of holding her aunt’s hand without permission during a walk, court records show.
According to a 1991 California appellate case that was filed on behalf of child-welfare officials, a psychiatric evaluation of Graydon Drown was done at that time. The report described Graydon Drown as adamant that he would continue to discipline his children in accordance with a religious treatise, which called for punishment immediately upon disobedience to the point of pain, but not bruising.
“The doctor found the prognosis grim, with the potential for abuse and cruelty to the children,” the report said.
Those three children, now adults, were raised by Graydon Drown’s parents. Graydon and Robyn Drown then moved to Alaska, where Robyn gave birth to several more children.
Robyn Drown’s testimony had little to do with why she punished her children, but instead attempted to lay out the argument that she was a battered woman dominated by her husband, including relating a story about a pet goat Graydon Drown killed while living in Alaska.
Robyn Drown said Graydon Drown often would hold the goat up by its leash and collar, choking the animal into submission until it one day died. Robyn Drown said that her husband didn’t believe the goat was dead, and claimed God could bring the animal back to life — the family was forced to drag the goat inside by the stove and rub its body in a sort of reincarnation ritual.
Robyn Drown said she was forced to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the goat, until Graydon Drown finally was convinced it could not be revived.
Even seemingly normal family activities at the Drown household had odd twists.
Despite the parents’ apparent strict upbringing, one young child told a foster parent about watching several R-rated movies with his parents, including “The Matrix” and the 1989 movie “Next of Kin,” in which a Chicago cop sets out to find his brother’s killer. The boy said all of the children would watch the movies with their father while their mother made popcorn.
The children described how Graydon Drown would preach his doctrine, telling them that he was the Messiah.
Agnes Opgenorth, now caring for some of the Drown children, wrote in a letter to the judge about the shifting blame — how Robyn blamed Graydon, and Graydon blamed God.
Perlstein, who runs Chabad of Salem, said that it wasn’t until after the Drowns’ arrest that Perlstein learned Graydon Drown lied about being Jewish. During the trial, Graydon Drown wore a yarmulke, but was not wearing it when he was sentenced on Wednesday.
Turner-area parents charged, found guilty of abuse, The Statesman Journal
Parents could face years in prison, The Statesman Journal
Pair guilty on most charges, The Statesman Journal
Wife describes own abuse, The Statesman Journal
Jury hears taped beating, The Statesman Journal
Five more children testify in abuse trial, The Statesman Journal
Child-abuse trial starts, The Statesman Journal