Diet From Hell

Health food was always on the menu at the small south Scottsdale apartment where Blair and Kimu Parker lived with their three children.

The Parkers were vegan, a common but less-than-household term that sounds distinctly extraterrestrial, possibly because the star Vega has spawned numerous science-fiction aliens that bore the name Vegan. From a dietary perspective, vegans are vegetarians who shun not only meat but animal products like gelatin, eggs, cheese and milk.

The Parkers ran an austere home. The three Parker children, Michaela, 11, Caleb, 9 and Zion, 3, were home-schooled and slept together in one room. One of the apartment's rooms was the school, set up with maps and work tables.

Breakfast was like dinner for the Parkers. Fresh vegetables, especially carrots. Rice and nuts and fruit. Soy cheese, tofu-egg sandwiches. Kimu could do wonders with tofu and the right spices. Lunch was the same, but less — and sometimes they skipped lunch. Dinner was usually light. Snacks were rare, but the children were allowed healthful chips and imitation ice cream.

The Parkers believed in feeding their kids no more than just enough.

Sometimes, they would use a cooking timer to limit how long the kids could sit for a meal. When the bell rang after 20 minutes, the children were done eating.

The Parkers were extremely concerned about child obesity, one of the greatest health scares of our time. They shuddered at the thought of the saturated fat, growth hormones, sugar and toxins in typical American fare. Blair was an armchair nutritionist who felt it was his responsibility and right as a parent to feed the kids the most healthful foods possible. Kimu thought veganism prevented her and the children from asthma attacks.

And because of the good care they believed they were providing, the Parker's children were very healthy.

Except for the seizures.

All the kids had them at times. Caleb's first trip to a doctor came in 1998, when he was 2. He had to be hospitalized at Phoenix Children's Hospital for violent episodes. Doctors told the family then that the children's diet was inadequate, but the Parkers believed they knew best, thinking the real culprit was epilepsy.

Sure, their kids were small. The Parkers knew that. But they thought it was because the kids didn't ingest the steroids in cattle and other meat sources. Plus, Kimu was naturally thin, and the kids may have inherited the trait from her.

The Parkers' diagnosis: The children don't absorb nutrients well.

They used all manner of food supplements for the problem, such as Garden Of Life's Perfect Food, which is powdered vegetables, grass, seeds, seaweed and nutrients.

The Parkers fed their children carefully selected, low-calorie food that was much different from the fatty, sugar-laden fare typical American kids gorge on.

But they knew that what they were doing was extreme. Kimu, a former kindergarten and first-grade teacher, knew that she had probably taken things too far and that the kids were too skinny. She knew they might be taken from her if authorities saw them.

That's one reason why the Parkers didn't call 911 on the night of April 22, 2005, when little Zion began having terrible seizures. Instead, they called Windy Skeete, a Wisconsin woman with mail-order certifications in naturopathy and herbs.

Skeete, who runs a nutrition-oriented fundamentalist Christian ministry and food-supplement store, knew the Parkers from a church in Montana, where they had lived before moving to Scottsdale nine years earlier.

A few months earlier, the Parkers had told Skeete that Zion was losing a lot of weight and seemed to have malabsorption syndrome. Skeete would later tell a jury that she advised the Parkers to try the herbs slippery elm and bilberry.

Then came the late-night phone calls in April. When told that the 3-year-old was having seizures and was cold to the touch, Skeete asked Kimu Parker what kind of herbal medicines the girl had been given. Kimu replied that she had used an anti-spasmodic tincture of lobelia skunk cabbage about four hours earlier, Skeete later testified. Skeete told her to try it again.

Over the next hour or two, the Parkers called Skeete a few more times. At one point on the phone with Kimu, Skeete heard Blair in the background saying Zion was having a grand mal seizure. Skeete suggested a bath to warm her up.

Why she waited so long to tell the Parkers to call 911 when a child was having a serious medical problem is a mystery — she refused to talk about the issue with New Times. But Skeete finally urged the Parkers to seek outside help.

Hospital workers and police bore a heartbreaking sight when they laid eyes on Zion, who weighed 13 pounds.

Doctors at Phoenix Children's Hospital compared her condition with that of a starving Third World child. Her skin was loose on her bones, with hardly any fat or muscle to make it taut. Nearly every tendon and bone was visible. Her heartbeat could be seen in her scrawny chest.

The outraged medical staff at PCH demanded that police bring in the other two children. As expected, doctors found Caleb and Michaela malnourished as well. The boy weighed just 31 pounds. His older sister was barely seven pounds heavier.

Blair and Kimu were arrested and charged with child abuse. They made bail but were forbidden to see their children, who were placed with a foster family.

Because of potentially incriminating statements the Parkers made to police on the night of their arrest, the trials were ordered held separately.

Blair Parker's trial was scheduled to start April 25, 2007, but was continued until September 12.

Kimu Parker's trial ended April 9: The jury took 95 minutes to convict her of three counts of child abuse. She faces a mandatory prison term of 30 to 51 years at her sentencing, scheduled for June 13.

And jury members hadn't even been told about Lily.

She was the Parkers' second daughter. She died at 3 after a series of seizures in 2001, three months before Zion was born.

In some ways, the Parkers ate far better than the average American family.

Their children didn't consume Lucky Charms for breakfast, a hot dog and fries for lunch and a meal from Pei Wei for dinner, with gobs of snacks between. The healthful cuisine may have put the family at less risk for diabetes, cholesterol problems or high blood pressure.

Whether out of concern for animals or a desire for optimum health, plenty of folks go against the nutritional norm by living vegetarian or vegan.

And it makes some sense, considering the increasingly strident warnings about obesity and how meat contributes to the risk of heart disease and strokes. News stories about the growing weight of Americans and their children are as common as those on climate change.

Recent statistics show as many as 66 percent of adults and 17 percent of children in America are overweight. President Bush recently called child obesity a "costly problem" and helped kick off a new commercial starring Shrek and his donkey sidekick, who goad kids to get off their butts and play outside. Former President Clinton last month parroted the frightening (though unproven) mantra of fat-fighters who say Americans run the risk of "raising the first generation of children to live shorter lives than their parents."

Considering the hype, it's understandable that the Parkers were so concerned about keeping their children thin. At Kimu Parker's trial, no evidence was raised that the parents withheld food with the intent of torturing their children. They didn't hit their kids, except for an occasional disciplinary spank. It was a loving home, by all accounts.

The Parkers were trying to give their children a long and healthy life.

From that point of view, Kimu Parker's minimum mandatory sentence of 30 years could be considered wildly excessive.

In a similar case five years ago in New York, a vegan couple with a malnourished baby was found guilty of child neglect. Joseph and Silva Swinton had been giving the girl homemade formula with wheatgrass and other plant matter. As in the Parkers' case, there was no evidence that the parents intended to hurt their child. The mother got six years and the father five — but the case was overturned on appeal in 2005 and the parents were freed.

Murderers in Arizona often don't do as much time as Kimu Parker is scheduled to serve. Christopher "Bo" Huerstel — who, in 1999, shot and killed three Pizza Hut employees in Tucson during a botched robbery — was sentenced last month to 25 years.

If she deserves her prison time, what about the parents who overfeed their kids? After all, according to the prevailing wisdom, "fat kills."

A spokeswoman for Arizona Child Protective Services couldn't cite a single case in which children were taken from their parents for over-nourishing their kids.

In Texas, a 13-year-old boy who weighed 400 pounds was recently removed from his home for intensive treatment, but no criminal charges have been filed against the parents, a Texas CPS spokesman says.

So, did the Parkers have the right idea, to some extent?

Strange as it may seem, adopting some — though obviously not all — of the Parkers' diet would probably improve the average American's health.

Eating some meat is good for you. Nutrition experts see eating meat, especially fish and lean white meat such as turkey, as a way of ingesting necessary protein, fat, iron, and zinc. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish reportedly enhance and maintain brain function.

On the other hand, the same nutritionists also recommend vegetarian diets for adults. The reason: Americans eat too many saturated fats and trans fats, which boost a bad form of cholesterol that clogs arteries. We eat too much sodium, which may raise blood pressure.

We eat too much, in general.

Obesity has become an epidemic in the eyes of some experts, and its link to diabetes is so strong that a distasteful new word has resulted: diabesity. One theory, supported by a study published last summer in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that being even a little overweight leads to an early demise.

You can look up your body mass index, a measure of body fat that has become a way to determine when extra pounds can be a health risk, on a Web site like this one: www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi. You rate normal if your BMI falls between 18.5 and 24.9. Overweight is 25 to 29.9, and obesity is anything over 30.

You can calculate how much you would have to weigh to make a BMI of 21, or even 19. It may seem thin, but you wouldn't be underweight, according to modern science. You may even live a lot longer. Experiments with animals show that near-starvation diets over a lifetime can lengthen lifespans by 30 percent or more.

The pressure to lose weight has never been greater. But don't start the fast just yet.

A lot of the hype over obesity is often just that. It's fodder for gossip rags and book deals and advertising time.

Plenty of questions about fat and health remain unanswered despite the mounds of research.

True, studies do show it's not good to be obese, or even overweight. But the research can be contradictory or interpreted loosely. As Paul Campos' 2004 book The Obesity Myth points out, connections between weighing too much and problems like cancer and heart disease aren't nearly as strong as many think.

The idea of low-calorie diets as a way to extend life in humans, meanwhile, remains controversial.

Any restricted diet could be dangerous for young children. Even veganism, healthful as it may be for adults, could be harmful to kids if not handled carefully. Nutritionists say that's especially true in the first few years of life, during growth spurts when extra proteins and fatty acids are needed for the brain.

The point is, concern about child obesity and nutrition is warranted — but there's no need to get extreme. Children who are malnourished face a far greater — and more immediate — health risk than overweight children.

Kimu Parker may not deserve decades behind bars for her misguided mothering skills. But when she and her husband became convinced that they were right about their children's feeding pattern, they blinded themselves to the simple truth that their kids were starving.

On a warm day in September six years ago, little Aaliyah "Lily" Parker was coming down with something. She was whiny. She felt hot, then cold. She didn't want to play with her older siblings.

Then she had a seizure. The toddler went silent and seemed frozen for a few moments.

Most parents, if they had not already called a doctor, certainly would have done so by that point.

But the Parkers didn't have much faith in doctors. They shunned vaccines. Blair Parker worked but didn't buy health insurance, which didn't matter because the kids didn't go for checkups. Lily had been born with the help of a midwife and had never seen a doctor.

The Parkers didn't even take the kids' temperatures; thermometers contain mercury, and mercury is dangerous.

The Parkers didn't call for help after Lily's first seizure. Or the second. Or the fifth.

The seizures seemed to escalate in strength. The Parkers tried massaging the little girl. The self-fashioned experts on herbal medicines gave her one-sixth of an adult dose of valerian and passion flower in an attempt to relax her muscles.

Lily vomited as they tried to feed her apple juice through her clenched teeth. The Parkers let her lie down in their bed, and they prayed.

Then came what Blair Parker would later call a grand mal seizure. Every muscle in her little body seemed to tighten.

Her breathing became "like a frog, raspy," a cop later recorded Blair as saying.

She stopped breathing about 10:30 p.m. The Parkers shut off every appliance in the apartment, hoping her breath would be audible in the silence. It wasn't.

That's when they called 911.

The Scottsdale police officers who responded to the apartment saw no evidence that a crime had occurred, a police report stated. The Parkers seemed appropriately distraught. Lily's body looked "well-nourished" and showed no signs of trauma. The apartment was neat; the refrigerator and cabinets well-stocked with vegetables and other health food. If this was child abuse, the Parker's apartment had none of the hallmarks of an abusive home, such as filth, disarray, or drug paraphernalia.

The police report doesn't mention that, at the time, Kimu was pregnant with the couple's fourth child, Zion.

Scottsdale police officer J. Leduc noted that the Parkers' two other kids "appeared healthy" but that Caleb, then 5, was "very small for his age."

Leduc underlined the word very.

Blair Parker, then 31, explained that his grandparents had died despite mainstream medical care, and that Kimu's uncle had died of a seizure. Epilepsy ran in the family, he said. Blair said he worked at Bill Heard Chevrolet in Scottsdale, and didn't qualify for state assistance. Kimu was a former teacher who home-schooled the children.

They had moved to the apartment in the mid-'90s from a small town in Montana. Before that, they lived in Oakland. Blair said he originally was from Baltimore, had been in the Navy, and aspired to be a naturopathic physician. He said he had taken college courses in business administration, marketing, nutrition, medicine, nursing, and engineering.

A few months later, Dr. Marco Ross of the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner ruled that Lily had died of aseptic meningitis, which is rarely fatal. His report shows that Ross deemed the body's appearance "well-nourished," though he also recorded that the 3-year-old weighed 20 pounds, which is very light for her age.

Shawn Steinberg of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office later asked Ross if the child would have survived had the parents given her prompt medical attention. Ross said he couldn't say, according to a note by Steinberg attached to the police report.

On February 5, 2002, Steinberg decided not to prosecute, figuring the state couldn't get a conviction.

The decision was a missed opportunity. And the two surviving Parker children should have been evaluated at a hospital, where signs of malnutrition would have been found.

Defense attorneys successfully kept Lily's death from being raised at Kimu's trial. Mention of it also has been disallowed at Blair's upcoming trial. It makes legal sense: Such a declaration is akin to accusing the parents of child murder, but neither has been charged with that crime.

Whether or not the Parkers' diet had anything to do with Lily's death, the situation appeared suspicious.

As a doctor testified at Kimu's trial, low blood sugar as a result of malnutrition can cause seizures.

Michaela, the Parkers' oldest child, had been treated for seizures at a hospital in Montana when she was 2.

In the past two years, since the children have been under the care of foster parents, they've been fed a calorie-rich diet of vegetarian, though not vegan, food. None has had a seizure.

Kimu Parker was born in Los Angeles in 1970 and was raised in northern California by her mother, Marva Holiday, a singer and songwriter whose half-sister was the daughter of jazz legend Charles Mingus.

On her Web site, www.marvaholiday.com, she notes in her biography that one of her brothers had epilepsy and was found dead in his bed, which supports the story Blair and Kimu gave to police about Kimu's uncle dying of the disorder.

Though Holiday, an East Valley resident, declined to be interviewed for this story, she released a couple of comments via e-mail. She and Kimu ate fish and chicken occasionally until Kimu was 6, when they switched to full-time vegetarianism.

"Due to allergies in my family, I raised all my children as lacto-ovo vegetarians," she wrote, referring to vegetarians who eat milk and egg products.

Holiday's eating habits led her to join the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which encourages members to live healthfully and avoid meat.

Ellen White, who cofounded the Adventist church in the mid-1800s, wrote extensively on nutrition issues, mixing religion and health in one bowl.

She was influenced by philosophers from the European Age of Enlightenment. Modern vegetarianism - based on choice rather than access to meat - originated with 17th- and 18th-century vegetable-diet advocates like René Descartes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Benjamin Franklin.

Besides being perceived to improve health, the diet also was considered by some Christians to be good for the soul. The Bible says Adam and Eve were vegetarians before committing the first sin; they were allowed to kill animals for food only after they were cast out of the Garden of Eden.

"Meat is not essential for health or strength, else the Lord made a mistake when He provided food for Adam and Eve before their fall," White wrote (see www.whiteestate.org). "All the elements of nutrition are contained in the fruits, vegetables and grains."

Holiday raised her children in the church, and Kimu's young life was filled with church activities, potluck dinners and social gatherings. Kimu switched to a vegan diet in her teen years, hoping that avoiding dairy products would help her allergies and asthma.

Kimu met her future husband, Blair, at church, according to Holiday. The couple lived with Holiday before moving to Montana.

But the Parkers strayed far from typical Seventh Day Adventist teachings, which do not call for the withholding of medical care from children. Dozens of hospitals in the United States are affiliated with the church.

Donald McElvain, a local elder in a Seventh Day Adventist Church in Ronan, Montana, near where the Parkers once lived, says neither he nor other church members remember the family.

"It's embarrassing" to have the Parkers linked to his faith, McElvain says.

"That's not what we're about," he says. "We don't believe in abuse."

The Parkers didn't attend church in the Valley, despite having lived in Scottsdale for nine years. They didn't have a traditional doctor. They didn't send their children to a public or private school, where their physical conditions surely would have been noticed and reported. They dressed the children in long pants and long-sleeve shirts, even on hot summer days. They were friendly with neighbors — until a neighbor inquired about the kids. Then they pulled back. Kimu would later tell a police detective she felt isolated. But it was an island of her making.

After Lily died, Kimu told police, some family members accused her and Blair of killing the girl with malnutrition. She said the couple no longer spoke to Blair's mother because of the situation. But if their daughter's death gave the Parkers any doubt about their way of life, they didn't show it.

At home, Kimu and Blair regimented eating, school, exercise, and sleep time for the children, never letting the kids' habits stray from their own beliefs. Authorities couldn't determine whether one spouse was more responsible than the other for the family's meal program. Blair did most of the shopping because Kimu didn't drive, and Kimu prepared most meals. They both knew how much and what kind of groceries the family was consuming.

Court documents show that Prescott eating-disorder specialist Dr. Ray Lemberg believes Blair may have obsessive-compulsive disorder, which would account for his nutritional mindset. Blair's public defender, whom Blair fired last month, wants Lemberg to testify for the defense. But prosecutors opposed the move, arguing that Lemberg can't know all that much about Blair because the two have never met.

Wilson wrote in a court motion that, because Blair doesn't believe in traditional psychology or medicine, he refuses to be examined by Lemberg.

It was that kind of isolation that led to months and years before the community finally figured out what was happening to the Parkers' children. They were getting older but not growing up. By the time of Zion's hospitalization, Caleb, who was 9, stood only 3 feet, 4 inches tall. Eleven-year-old Michaela was 3-foot-9.

Doctors would later testify that even if the parents had been short (they're not: Blair is 6-foot-5 and his wife is 5-foot-6), the children would be much too small for their ages.

Kimu later told police she knew the kids weren't "progressing" and she wanted to get help. Her anxiety grew in late 2004 and early 2005 because Zion, her youngest daughter — already skin and bones — suddenly had lost even more weight. The troubling episode gave the girl an even more skeletal appearance.

But Kimu remembered how the police had been suspicious of her and her husband when Lily died, and she had recently seen a television program about CPS taking kids away from their parents.

"I would never deliberately hurt my child, you know," Kimu told police on the night of Zion's hospitalization. "Only thing I was worried about is: I know that, right now, if someone sees that someone's small, they're gonna think it was neglect."

At her trial last month, Kimu Parker appeared stoic and calm. She dressed modestly, usually wearing long-sleeved suit jackets and long skirts. She's an attractive, young-looking woman with straightened black hair falling below her collar. Even with clothing mostly covering her body, she looked very thin.

Jury members, on the other hand, possessed more typical American physiques. More than half were overweight. Observers couldn't help but wonder whether the jurors' own lifestyle choices could've influenced their verdict.

Out of about 300 potential jurors, not "one really thin person" was chosen by trial attorneys as a juror, said panel member Vanessa May.

Juror Don Rennaker says, "I'm heavy. That doesn't have anything to do with it."

Rennaker, who turned 70 this year, says he knows obesity is harmful. After trouble with his heart in 2000, his doctor told him to shed some pounds.

He says he decided Kimu Parker's chief motive in starving the kids was "She was never going to have a fat child."

The evidence against Kimu Parker was "absolutely damning," he says. "There's no way you could get past those pictures" of the painfully skinny children.

Asked whether Kimu deserves 30 years in prison for the crime, Rennaker says, "I was hoping it would be more than that."

May, however, a 23-year-old Phoenix hairstylist with no children, says she had some regret over the verdict after finding out about the mother's mandatory sentence. May says she believes Kimu used the diet to keep the kids fit, but she should have called a doctor if she thought her kids had malabsorption syndrome.

"Just because those are your beliefs, that doesn't mean it's right," May says.

The Parkers' older children, Michaela and Caleb, mostly adhere to their parents' vegan beliefs, even though they no longer are in Kimu and Blair's custody. After the parents' arrest in April 2005, the state was careful to place the Parker children with a vegetarian foster family. Possibly, prosecutors wanted to make sure that future jurors — and the public — knew the case was about child abuse, not veganism. Prosecutor Frankie Grimsman refused to talk to New Times.

But there was also the matter of the older children's food preferences.

The three children stayed at Phoenix Children's Hospital for more than a month after they were admitted, even though one paramedic testified that the older kids didn't need hospitalization. The parents spent about two months in jail after their arrests, so the hospital stay was probably the best way to keep the kids together while an appropriate foster family was found.

Polly Thomas, a hospital social worker, said at the trial that staff went shopping for the kids to make sure they had the special grains and spices they enjoy. Thomas said Michaela would special-order vegan food from the cafeteria, with help from the PCH nutrition department, then add lots of tasty spices.

"There were always wonderful smells from that corner of the unit," Thomas said.

The food may have been similar to home-cooking for the kids, but there was more of it.

Thomas said Michaela showed her the size of the meals she would get at home, hoping to demonstrate that she and her siblings weren't deprived. But the portions looked way too small to the social worker.

After getting more substantial portions for a few weeks, the children "started to fill out — Michaela said her legs were getting fat," Thomas stated. "All the children went straight up on the growth chart during their hospital stay."

The hospital staff found the kids intelligent and personable. Caleb tore through the books on the hospital library's shelves, and workers bought him more. Michaela turned 12, and the staff threw her a birthday party — the girl said it was her first ever.

The state eventually placed the children with Paulette and Larry Russell, a psychologist and dentist with children of their own. The couple seemed perfect to CPS; they're black, vegetarian and have a close family member who's a Seventh Day Adventist.

Paulette Russell testified that her family does not eat meat but does not eschew milk, eggs or products containing such ingredients, like bread.

Though the Parker kids were getting enough to eat, finally, they must have feared that the situation could change at any moment. At the hospital and at home with the Russells, the older children hoarded food. The Russells sometimes found a box of cereal or a bag of chips hidden in the children's room.

Under the Russells' care, Michaela gained 45 pounds, Caleb gained 28 pounds and little Zion gained 38 pounds.

Showing a picture of the new Zion to Russell and the jury, the prosecutor asked whether the girl was, in fact, now chubby.

"Yes, she's chubby," Paulette Russell said, smiling.

The jury burst out in relieved laughter — Zion was one of them now.

Although the Parker children apparently are recovered, they may still have health problems later in life stemming from malnourishment.

Jeff Hampl, an associate professor of nutrition at Arizona State University, says that if the body doesn't get the proper nutrients during a childhood growth spurt, it may never recover. The growing brain is particularly vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies.

Hampl, who hasn't examined the children, says that if their intelligence hasn't been affected by now, it probably won't be. But behavior problems and attention deficit disorder symptoms could manifest themselves. Sometimes, there is a deficiency in iron in malnutrition cases; iron is needed in the right quantity to carry oxygen to the brain. It's also probable that the kids will be underweight their whole lives, he says.

Many people impose veganism on their children without the kids suffering health problems. In the Parker kids' case, the food was vegan, but there wasn't enough of it.

The number of vegetarians in the United States may range from 1 to 3 percent of the population, but no one really knows how many kids are being raised vegetarian or vegan.

Hampl, a self-described omnivore, says most children start off as vegans, taking breast milk from their mother, then are weaned on whole-grain foods like Cheerios.

Hampl says parents don't need to be experts to raise vegan kids, but they do need common sense.

"You can get into trouble," Hampl says. "But [a vegan diet] can be done safely."

Lana Davis, 27, who recently moved from the Valley to North Carolina with her husband, says her 3-year-old son has never eaten an animal product. She says it's frustrating to hear veganism linked to the Parkers' and similar malnutrition cases in other states.

"Damien is proof that eating vegetables can make you strong, because he's very healthy," Davis says.

But it's not easy, she says of her boy.

"I don't get to crack open a macaroni-and-cheese box and have dinner that way," she says. "Unfortunately with veganism, it's not either cheap or fast when it comes to food."

One troubling aspect of veganism in young children is that parents (the Davises included) usually choose the diet because of concern for animal rights. Good health may be seen only as a side benefit. That can lead to tunnel vision when deciding what's best for kids.

Phil Parmenter, a 45-year-old Fountain Hills resident and IT worker, says he thought about that a lot when he became vegan four years ago and began putting his son, then 5 years old, on the diet.

Already a lacto-ovo vegetarian for 19 years, Parmenter decided he could be objective enough to make the right choices. For instance, he and his son get flu shots even though they are made with eggs. (He says he feels sad for chickens who sit in small boxes, barely able to move, at mass-production farms, but he allows the shots anyway out of concern for his and his son's health.)

"I wish there was another way," he says.

Nine-year-old Arion isn't a pure vegan. Parmenter is divorced, and his ex-wife feeds Arion a diet that includes meat when he's with her.

At one point during his interview with New Times, Parmenter asks the boy if he would rather eat meat.

Arion looks at his father for a long moment, shakes his head and says, "It's disgusting."

Parmenter says he believes he and his son get all the high-quality protein and amino acids they need from non-animal sources. "Some people would disagree with that," he says. "But they're wrong."

Meals at the Parmenter house consist of soy products (he calls them "meat analogs") and legumes, such as beans. Vegetables like spinach and broccoli are important. They eat their veggies fresh or frozen, usually cooking them in the microwave for a few minutes. They take a vegan multivitamin daily.

Asked repeatedly what his favorite vegan food is, Arion says, "I don't know."

His father prompts him — what about tofu scramblers?

The boy says they're okay "but they're all flingy and floppy."

Finally, Arion acknowledges he enjoys vegan hamburgers or vegan chicken burgers.

Carol Johnston, another ASU nutrition professor, disagrees with her colleague Hampl on the issue of raising vegan children, though she is a vegetarian. Vegans may give their children food supplements to make up for vitamin or mineral deficiencies — but those supplements aren't regulated by the government and may not contain the necessary quantities of nutrients, she says.

It's better to feed kids a wide variety of food, including animal products, to make sure they're getting the right stuff in their growing bodies, she argues.

Humans evolved to eat meat, she says, a fact evident to scientists because of our short colons. Animals that eat more fibrous plant material need a larger colon to digest it.

Restricting the diet in almost any way tends to increase the chances for a nutritional deficiency, Johnston says. But problems with veganism are rare. Far more common is over-nourishment on fast foods and processed foods. Millions of Americans limit their options by regularly choosing food that isn't good for them, and it's so convenient and cheap that they eat a lot of it. So do their children.

"Parents are abusing their kids in a manner we don't understand yet," Johnston says.

Kimu Parker's lawyer, Charles Vogel, asked for an extension of Kimu's sentencing date to give him more time for legal maneuvers.

By June 13, Vogel hopes to convince the judge in the case, Thomas O'Toole, that he should dismiss the verdicts pertaining to Michaela and Caleb because no evidence exists that they suffered serious physical injuries.

If he's successful, Kimu Parker may get only 10 years instead of 30 to 51.

Either way, she can try to appeal her conviction.

Her husband and his former lawyer, James Wilson, were rattled by the verdict against Kimu. Vogel failed to make the jury believe that the kids had malabsorption syndrome, or even that the Parkers had good reason to believe the children suffered from it. Prosecutor Frankie Grimsman even turned the Parkers' only outside source of medical expertise — herbal specialist Windy Skeete — against them. Skeete testified for the state and contradicted parts of the Parkers' story.

Before Blair Parker fired Wilson, the attorney was focusing on Blair's mental state. But an insanity defense has always been out of the question. That defense can be employed only if it can be proved that the Parkers had no idea what they were doing.

Prosecutors proved just the opposite in Kimu's trial.

Three jurors interviewed by New Times say they didn't spend much time attempting to get inside Kimu Parker's mind during deliberations.

The statute under which Kimu was convicted reads "intentionally or knowingly" causing harm to a child. The jurors said they interpreted that to mean they should convict if they found Kimu may not have meant to hurt her children but, ultimately, knew she was doing so.

An acquittal for Blair appears a long shot. And it looks doubtful that he'll ever have custody of his three oldest children again.

But until his new trial date in September, at least Blair has the comfort of holding Isaiah, his and Kimu's new baby boy.

The Parker couple had been stuck in an empty home for months in 2005 after being freed on bond from jail. They were facing near-life sentences in prison, and their children had been placed in foster care. With almost no future ahead of them, the Parkers created one.

Isaiah was born last summer.

The boy stayed with his parents until his mother was taken to jail last month after her conviction.

Now, he's in Blair's care. At least for a little while.

If his father also is convicted, the boy will become the state's responsibility.

Kimu's aunt, Chochez Harrison of Gardena, California, has seen baby Isaiah's picture.

"He's plump and happy," she says.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.