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of child abuse in alleged ploy to appear on Dr Phil
The Journal, 24/08/11
AN ALASKAN WOMAN who squirted hot sauce into the mouth of her adopted
Russian son for lying about getting in trouble in school has been
convicted of misdemeanor child abuse in what prosecutors said was a ploy
to get on the Dr Phil TV show.
Jessica Beagley, 36, made a videotape of how she punished the boy and
submitted it to the show. The tape shows Beagley yelling at the crying
boy, then tipping his chin up and pouring hot sauce in his mouth.
Beagley then had the screaming boy stand in a cold shower for
sword-fighting with pencils in school.
Both actions were recorded on a videotape submitted to the Dr Phil show.
Anchorage police got calls from viewers after the show aired last
Neither Beagley nor her husband showed any emotion when the six-person
jury announced its decision yesterday. The couple walked quickly from
the courtroom and down a set of stairs without responding to questions
Jessica Beagley could face the maximum sentence of one year in jail, a
$10,000 fine and up to 10 years of probation when she is sentenced
Monday, said District Judge David Wallace. She remains free without bail
because the case is a misdemeanor.
Prosecutor Cynthia Franklin also left the courtroom without commenting.
Beagley and her husband, Gary, an Anchorage police officer, adopted the
twins in 2008 when they were 5 years old. The boys had already spent
three years in an orphanage. When located by Russian authorities, their
family was living in a shack and the twins were sleeping on shelves in
One of the twins made a fairly easy adjustment to his new home in
Alaska, but the other exhibited behavioural problems that included lying
and urinating on the floor.
Beagley’s attorney said his client turned to unconventional forms of
punishment when spankings, time-outs and restricting television
weren’t effective in changing the boy’s behaviour.
Defence attorney William Ingaldson said his client was faced with a
difficult situation dealing with a child with emotional problems when
she reached out to the Dr Phi” show for help. If she hadn’t done
that, she never would have been charged with child abuse, he said.
“It is our feeling Jessica was doing the best she could. … This is a
very good, loving family,” Ingaldson said.
He believes the city child abuse ordinance fails to spell out what is
acceptable in terms of punishment. For example, under the law it would
be possible to convict a parent who put a child in a timeout for what a
jury might consider too long, he said.
Ingaldson will request that Beagley receive no jail time. Asked if the
children could be taken from the family, he said the Office of
Children’s Services had already investigated and found no reason to
In closing arguments Monday, Franklin said Beagley recorded the
punishment on 21 October, 2010, for a segment of the show titled Mommy
Beagley’s lawyer countered that she made the video and eventually went
on the show because she was desperate to find help for her son. Both
prosecutors and the defence attorney acknowledged that the eight-minute
video showing Beagley punishing the boy was hard to watch.
“There is no reason in the world why someone has to hurt a child to
get on a reality show,” Franklin said in her closing argument.
When the episode aired, it sparked public outrage in Russia, with some
people demanding the boy and his twin brother, who were both adopted by
Beagley and her husband, be returned to their native country.
Franklin told the jury it wasn’t Beagley’s first attempt to get on
the Dr Phil show.
After seeing a segment in April 2009 titled Angry Moms, she contacted
the show but heard nothing for a year and a half, Franklin said. The
show eventually called to find out if Beagley was still angry, she said.
Beagley then submitted audition videos in which she yelled at the boy,
but producers said they needed to see her actually punishing her son,
the prosecutor said.
That’s when Beagley got the video camera ready, made sure there was
enough hot sauce on the shelf in the bathroom and recruited her
ten-year-old daughter to shoot the video, Franklin said. Days later, she
was headed to Los Angeles to tape the show that first aired on 17
Dr Phil McGraw describes Beagley’s actions as brutal and abusive,
according to a transcript of the show.
“I think anybody would look at that and say that that is absolutely
outrageous, it is over the top, it is abusive, it is inefficient, it is
— it is out of control,” McGraw said in the transcript after
portions of the video were shown.
The show provided the Beagleys with an evaluation of the boy and
More recently, the boy has been diagnosed with reactive attachment
disorder and is in therapy.
In his closing arguments, Ingaldson encouraged the jury to look closely
at other footage submitted to the show in which Beagley coaches the
children on not getting into trouble and reminding them of what happens
if they do.
“She is not trying to get these kids to misbehave. She is trying to do
the opposite,” Ingaldson said.
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is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are
and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there
is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting
Alex Haley, Author of Roots