ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - An Alaska mom who touched off a furor when she was seen on the “Dr. Phil” show pouring hot sauce into her adopted Russian-born son’s mouth was found guilty of child abuse on Tuesday.
Jessica Beagley, a 36-year-old mother of six, showed little reaction as a six-member Anchorage jury returned the guilty verdict on a single count of misdemeanor child abuse.
Beagley and her husband, an Anchorage policeman, left the court without speaking to reporters. She faces a maximum of a year in prison and a $10,000 fine when she is sentenced on Monday.
Municipal prosecutors filed the charge against her after homemade video of Beagley’s discipline methods aired last November on the “Dr. Phil” show, sparking a furor in both the United States and Russia.
Outraged viewers alerted authorities to the footage, which showed Beagley pouring hot sauce into the 7-year-old boy’s mouth and making him stand in a cold shower.
Prosecutor Cynthia Franklin said Beagley staged exaggerated and compounded punishments specifically to win a spot on the Dr. Phil program, which has occasionally featured so-called “Angry Moms” in segments called “Mommy Confessions.”
The nationally broadcast video, which was shot by Beagley’s daughter, further humiliated the boy, Franklin said.
“In the end, (jurors) concluded that it is cruel punishment when you pile punishments on top of one another and have your other child videotape it so you can get on a television show,” she said.
The case has attracted attention in Russia, where there is growing concern about adopted children from that country facing abuse in the United States. Russian news reporters have been covering the Anchorage trial, which started last week.
Russian officials had previously threatened to halt adoptions by U.S. parents unless Washington agreed to a treaty to better regulate them after a different American woman sent her 7-year-old adopted son back to Moscow on a plane last year with a note describing him as mentally unbalanced and violent.
Defense attorney William Ingaldson said Beagley’s harsh punishment methods, which he said she has since abandoned, and her willingness to subject herself to public ridicule in order to obtain advice from Dr. Phil, grew out of desperation.
Beagley and her husband had struggled with the boy, who was adopted at age 5 along with his twin brother from an orphanage in Magadan, Russia, Ingaldson said.
Both boys have since been diagnosed with an emotional disorder stemming from their difficult early years in Russia and are now in long-term therapy, the defense lawyer said.
Ingaldson blamed the guilty verdict in part on what he said was a vaguely written law.
“It makes it really tough as a parent to discipline your kids and not be subject to other people’s subjective ideas of what is right or wrong,” he told reporters.
In addition to the adopted twins, Beagley and her husband have three daughters and a son with Down Syndrome, he said.
“This is a very good loving family,” he said. “It would be really tragic if that was the case because these kids are surrounded in a caring, loving family that are trying the best to make the best for their kids.”
On one point, Ingaldson agreed with the prosecutor in the case. “I think it’s without a doubt, if she hadn’t gone on Dr. Phil, this never would have happened,” he said.
Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Cynthia Johnston