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Parents Get 6 Years in Prison in Death of Baby Boy Bitten by Rat : Courts: Judge calls the transient couple callously indifferent and lashes out at Orange County social workers for failing to take action despite repeated complaints.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A homeless couple whose 4-month-old son died after their pet rat bit the child more than 110 times was sentenced Wednesday to six years in prison by a judge who called them callously indifferent parents who cared more about getting high on drugs than caring for their son.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Kazuharu Makino also lashed out at county social workers who failed to intervene despite repeated complaints about the parents and their filthy living conditions--including a plea for help from the baby’s grandparents shortly before the infant’s death.

Kathyleen Giguere wept silently while her husband, Steven Giguere Sr., buried his face in his hands as the judge rejected their request for probation and drug treatment after their conviction on child neglect charges.

Makino imposed the maximum sentence, noting that the parents had panhandled, begged and used their public assistance money to buy drugs and alcohol instead of providing a safe home for Steven Giguere Jr., who was 4 months old, and his 3-year-old sister.

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“These two children were solely dependent on their mother and father for their welfare. These people were given public money for the welfare of their children,” Makino said. “Instead, that money went for drugs. They used that money for their own self-interest so much that they couldn’t pay rent, they couldn’t buy food, they had to live in their car.”

In his request for leniency, defense attorney William Watson told the judge that Kathyleen Giguere was a troubled woman, but nonetheless dedicated to her son. The judge disagreed.

“Steven Jr. was far from the primary focus of her life,” Makino said. “The primary focus of her life was to get loaded, high on drugs and gratify her need for that.”

In June, an Orange County Superior Court jury convicted the couple on two counts each of felony child neglect. Jurors deadlocked 9 to 3 in favor of convicting the parents of involuntary manslaughter.

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During the trial, defense attorneys had argued that the child was already dead--possibly from sudden infant death syndrome--when the rat attacked. But Makino said Wednesday that he had little doubt that the rat caused Steven Jr.'s death.

On Aug. 26, 1993, the couple and their children were living in a filthy, roach-infested station wagon when the rat attacked the child, biting the infant more than 110 times. Doctors who testified for the prosecution said the child died when the rodent’s sharp teeth struck an artery in the boy’s wrist.

The car was parked in an Anaheim parking lot, but Deputy Dist. Atty. Jim Tanizaki said he does not believe the parents were in the vehicle when the attack took place. An autopsy shows that the baby had air in his lungs at the time of death, indicating that he was crying heavily and loudly.

The parents have denied leaving the child alone, and Kathyleen Giguere suggested in court records that she may have slept through the attack.

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The couple’s daughter, now 4, lives with her grandparents.

County officials had checked on the family at least four times in the past, had ordered them to clean up a trash-strewn apartment where food was allowed to spoil on counters and remained there for weeks, while floors were cluttered with empty beer cans and liquor bottles.

In August, 1993, the child’s grandparents--Steven Giguere’s father and stepmother--lodged a complaint with the county about the Gigueres, but social workers were unable to locate the transient couple.

“It just makes you wonder what their standard is in the Department of Social Services and what is required to make them take steps to intervene,” Makino said Wednesday.

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