WESTLAKE : Abuse Suspect Tells of Love for Daughter

Charlotte Russo, the affluent Westlake woman on trial for alleged child abuse, finished three days of testimony Thursday by saying she loves the daughter she is accused of biting and forcing to live in a back-yard racquetball court for months on end.

Russo also said under cross-examination that she would welcome the girl back into her home. The girl, now 16, has been in a foster home since May of last year when her parents were arrested on charges of physically abusing her.

Russo faces felony and misdemeanor charges of child abuse in the Ventura County Superior Court trial. She has denied assaulting the girl and said her husband ordered the girl to sleep in the racquetball court.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Dee Corona played a tape-recorded interview that Russo had with a sheriff’s child-abuse investigator hours after the arrest.


Russo described her daughter as a problem child and said she had done everything within her authority to rein her in.

She did not describe any abuse on the tape, but in court has acknowledged that she once bit the girl in self-defense and often slapped her for “mouthing off.”

Outside court, Corona said she played the tape because she thought it was significant that Russo did not divulge the biting incident or other abuse to the investigator.

“She told him every other thing about the girl, why didn’t she tell him that?” Corona said during a recess.


In court, Russo said her husband--Richard, 50, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child abuse--ordered the girl to sleep in the racquetball court for two weeks last year. Corona asked her why she did not supply the girl with a bed in the facility.

Russo said the girl was “15 1/2 years old and could have taken out a bed as well as I could.”

The trial will continue Monday and is expected to go the jury for deliberation late next week.