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Girl, 9, Was Treated Like a Prisoner, Jurors Told : Courts: Couple accused of abuse kept the child in her bedroom, often depriving her of food, prosecutor says.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a grim account of fairytale-like abuse, a prosecutor told jurors here Friday that a couple used a burglar alarm and a motion detector to keep a 9-year-old girl a prisoner in her bedroom.

The girl was only let out for dinner and to attend school, Deputy Dist. Atty. Kelly Cromer said in the first day of a trial, and she was sometimes forced to urinate or defecate in her room at night because she was not allowed to leave to use the bathroom.

“You’re going to hear a story that is almost too bad to be true,” the prosecutor told the Lancaster Superior Court jury.

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In her opening statement, Cromer alleged that the girl’s father, Fred William Fell, 41, and her stepmother, Donna Lynn Fell, 35, also punished her by depriving the girl of food and hitting her with their hands, a belt, a pan and a fly-swatter.

The couple also forced young Amy Michelle Fell to clean a bathroom with a toothbrush and to lick clean a stove top, Cromer said.

The Fells have pleaded not guilty to two counts each of child abuse. Their attorneys elected not to make opening statements Friday, but reserved the right to wait until they present their defense.

The allegations arose in February, 1993, when a school nurse noticed Amy’s bruises and contacted the Los Angeles County Department of Children’s Services, which opened an investigation and called sheriff’s deputies.

At that time, the girl weighed only 63 pounds, and a deputy’s report described her “extremely malnourished.”

Amy, who is now 12 and is expected to testified later in the trial, was removed from the Fells’ home and is now living with her mother, authorities said.

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Cromer told the jurors that family problems surfaced soon after Donna Fell married the girl’s father in late 1992. The prosecutor said Donna Fell inflicted most of the punishment on her stepdaughter, calling her a “devil child.”

“What we have here is a woman who hated this child,” Cromer said.

The prosecutor told jurors they would see a videotape in which Donna Fell questioned Amy about the theft of some hair spray. The prosecutor said the defendant told the girl she was making the tape as a record of her misbehavior, to be used if she ever told anyone she was being abused.

“You’ll see from this interrogation exactly what the relationship was between Donna Fell and (the girl),” Cromer said.

The prosecutor said the girl’s father also abused her physically. “He admitted to police that his idea of discipline was to hit her upside the head,” Cromer said.

The prosecution’s first witness, Christopher R. Braden, lived in a trailer on the Fells’ property at the time of the alleged abuse. He testified Friday that the alarm on Amy’s bedroom door abruptly disappeared just before deputies arrived to investigate the abuse allegations.

Braden, 23, also testified that the motion detector would trigger a light in the Fells’ bedroom if anyone walked through the living room. In addition, he said, the family’s refrigerator was sometimes secured with a padlock.

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If the girl did not finish her chores or made a mess, she was not allowed to eat dinner--a punishment meted out two or more times a week, Braden testified. “(The girl) was in her room all the time,” he said. “She always seemed to be punished for something.”

After court adjourned for the weekend, Fred Fell’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Michael Allensworth, downplayed the allegations against his client.

“I think the evidence will show that Fred did not have much to do with any mistreatment of (the girl),” he said.

Donna Fell’s attorney, Nancy Kelso, was unavailable for comment.

But in a telephone interview after the charges were filed in 1993, the couple denied to a reporter that they had made a prisoner of Amy, whom they described as emotionally disturbed.

In that interview, Donna Fell alleged that a baby-sitter was responsible for any abuse. She and her husband also said the bedroom door alarm was installed to alert the couple if Amy left her room to rummage through the house at night.

The motion detector was installed to warn the Fells if Braden or another tenant tried to enter the house at night, they said in the 1993 interview.

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