A 6-year-old boy weighed only 17 pounds at his time of death, with police saying he was intentionally starved by his father and stepmother as a form of punishment.
Michael Roberts, 42, and Georgena Roberts, 42, from Jerseyville, Illinois, have been charged with first-degree murder and two counts of endangering the life and health of a child, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Police responded to a call from a local hospital to investigate the circumstances behind the death of the extremely malnourished young boy.
Investigators say the boy’s father and stepmother had been deliberately denying him food for nearly two years.
The boy lived in the house with five other children. He, along with his 7-year-old brother, were both “deprived of food by the father and stepmother as a form of punishment,” according to the police report. Court documents say the couple “withheld food and nourishment on a constant basis” from the boy and his 7-year-old brother, who also “fell into a state of severe malnourishment caused by them.”
The Roberts “knowingly and intentionally” starved the children causing them both to fall “into a state of severe malnourishment.”
All five surviving children are in protective custody with the Department of Children and Family Services. The couple is being held at Jersey County jail with bail set at $500,000 each.
Their first court appearance was closed to the public, according to KTVI. Those who were in the courtroom say the state’s attorney detailed the children’s horrific living conditions.
Neighbors seemed to be unaware of what was happening to the children, with one saying the Roberts family was secretive and rarely went outside.
I had no idea that there was supposedly six children living in the house at all,” said Lucas Dickerman, who lives on the same street. “They never brought them outside to play. They never brought them over to say hi or anything. Very secretive people.”
Dickerman was surprised to see this happen, saying Jerseyville is a small and relatively sleepy town.
“Just crazy to think that something like that happens next door to you, especially in a town like this where stuff life that usually doesn’t happen,” he added. “All these people that are wanting children that can’t have children and they go and do something like that. It’s just beyond me, especially being a new father. I can’t imagine doing something like that to your kid.”