By Ray Stern
Last year, Blair Parker saw his wife, Kimu, sentenced to 30 years in prison for her role in the slow starvation of the Scottsdale couple's three children. With his trial under way today, he's hoping to avoid the same tough penalty.
The odds are against him. The facts in the case, as covered in a New Times article about Kimu Parker, are damning. The Parkers forced their home-schooled kids on a low-calorie Vegan diet for years and didn't reverse course even as the kids' bodies began wasting away.
The Parkers were arrested in April 2005 after one of their daughters, 3-year-old Zion, began having seizures and they called authorities, who were shocked at the girl's appearance. Zion weighed only 13 pounds and was suffering from extreme malnutrition.
The Parkers apparently thought they were helping, not harming, their children. Trouble was, their ideas of nutrition were horribly skewed by a lack of expertise and overblown fears of obesity. They focused on health statistics showing that Americans are becoming increasingly fat, like the ones reported on this site, and took extreme measures in their own family.
As in the trial of Kimu Parker, the latest trial will deal strongly with issues of nutrition. During jury selection last week, potential jurors were asked questions about diet, such as:
- Do you know the difference between a vegetarian and vegan diet? (A vegan diet precludes egg or dairy products.)
- Do you feel people are pursuing a healthy lifestyle if they do not include any meat or dairy in their diet?
- Do you believe it is possible to raise a healthy child on a vegetarian or vegan diet?
- Do you think matters related to nutrition and diet are generally simple or complex?
Parker won't have much built-in sympathy from the jury finalists seated today. Only one is black, like the Parkers, and half are overweight.
One thing in Parker's favor, though: As in Kimu's case, jury members won't hear about Lily, another Parker child on the same diet who died in 2001. No charges were brought against the Parkers in that death.
The couple split their trials to avoid the possibility that incriminating statements they made to police after their arrests would be used against the other.
Parker has managed to delay his own day in court for more than a year following his wife's trial and sentencing. After his court-appointed attorney, Jim Wilson, left the case after working on it for 22 months, Parker retained a private attorney, Jaime Hindmarch, who soon quit because Parker couldn't pay him.
The Parkers had another child, Isaiah, before Kimu's sentencing, and Blair has been taking care of the baby under the supervision of state Child Protective Services. The other three children, who have gained weight and become healthy since they were removed from their parents' home, remain with a vegetarian foster family.
Parker's new court-appointed attorney, Thomas Glow of the Maricopa County Legal Advocate's Office, argued that the 10 months he's been on the case is an inadequate amount of time to prepare a good defense. But with the passing of more than three years since the Parkers' arrests, county Superior Court Judge Roland Steinle refused to delay the case further.
In his opening statement today, Glow said the Parkers made "serious mistakes, but it doesn't make them criminals."
Still, it must be tough for Blair Parker to know another jury has already found that his wife's actions were criminal, and that his trial will be based on the same set of facts and the same testimony from expert witnesses. Worst of all, conviction means a minimum mandatory 10-year sentence on each of the three child-abuse counts. And the sentences, by law, must run consecutively.
A modicum of hope exists that Kimu Parker's 30-year sentence could be lessened.
Following Kimu's sentencing, Superior Court Judge Thomas O'Toole moved to get the sentence reduced, arguing it was "clearly excessive."
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A motion filed in March by O'Toole appeals to the state Board of Executive Clemency to recommend a pardon or sentence reduction to Governor Janet Napolitano, who has the legal ability to mete out such mercy. O'Toole argues that Kimu Parker has taken parenting classes and has seen the error of her ways. After a recent evaluation, "CPS opined that she was a good, proper parent who would be able to raise healthy children," O'Toole wrote.
The Board has yet to hear her case. If it recommends a lesser sentence for Kimu Parker than 30 years, that would obviously bode well for Blair Parker, even if he gets convicted.
Blair Parker's trial is expected to last about two weeks.