The line was drawn starkly Tuesday as the trial started for a Madison man accused of keeping his emaciated daughter locked in the basement.
To prosecutors, the 15-year-old girl who fled the home of Chad Chritton last February was courageous, freeing herself from a bad situation where she was so starved she had to scrounge garbage cans for food and was kept locked in a basement where she was forced to urinate and defecate on the floor.
But to Chritton's lawyer, William Hayes, the girl was a problem that Chritton, 41, couldn't solve despite his best efforts. She suffered psychiatric problems and on her own refused to eat.
In opening statements, the two sides prepared jurors for what they would hear during Chritton's two-week trial before Dane County Circuit Judge Julie Genovese.
Chritton is charged with being a party to six felonies: first-degree recklessly endangering safety, child abuse intentionally causing harm, causing mental harm to a child, failure to protect a child, false imprisonment and child neglect resulting in bodily harm. He also is charged with being a party to misdemeanor child neglect.
His wife, Melinda Drabek-Chritton, 43, faces similar charges. Her son, Joshua Drabek, 19, is charged with two counts of sexual assault of a child and one count of child abuse.
The three are being tried separately. Drabek-Chritton is scheduled for trial in April and Drabek in June.
15 years old, 68 pounds
In his opening statement, District Attorney Ismael Ozanne recounted how the girl, barefoot and dressed only in pajamas, was spotted by passers-by on Feb. 6, 2012, walking on Siggelkow Road not far from her home on Madison's Southeast Side.
During testimony by passer-by Michael Vega, Ozanne played the recording of Vega's 911 call, and at one point the girl, her voice sounding much younger than 15, could be heard crying, "My stepmom threatened me!"
Vega testified that the girl had scrapes on her face and arms, that her feet were purple from exposure to the cold and that her hair was dirty and matted.
He said she told him that her stepmother had threatened to throw her down the basement stairs.
To ease her mind while they waited for an ambulance to arrive, Vega said he played a Mary Poppins video on his phone, because she had said she liked Mary Poppins.
Despite being 15, the girl looked 8 to 10 years old and weighed 68 pounds, down 10 pounds from what she had weighed six years earlier, Ozanne said.
What struck Madison Police Officer Scott Frasier was that at St. Mary's Hospital, the girl quickly gobbled down a sandwich and then another just as quickly. Earlier, he testified that she had told him she didn't eat at home because she didn't want to eat.
Ozanne said that the girl had been admitted for psychiatric reasons at Meriter Hospital in 2006 and had been under the care of a psychiatrist and at home through another program. But problems continued, Ozanne said, including alleged attempts by Drabek to sexually assault her after he was placed back into his mother's home after being placed on adult probation in a separate sexual assault case.
Ozanne said Chritton and Drabek-Chritton did not tell state agents that the girl lived there.
Defense: deep psychiatric problems
But Hayes told jurors that the girl's problems ran more deeply. He said the girl had been exhibiting multiple personalities and bizarre behavior, including threats to kill her father and cut the fingers off her infant half-brother.
Despite help from a psychiatrist and social workers, she wasn't getting any better, Hayes said, and Chritton was ill-equipped to deal with the situation. To increase protection for the family, he said, a locking mechanism was put on the door to the basement, where the girl's bed had been moved for the family's safety. But while the lock required a key from the outside, the girl could open it from the inside, though it set off an alarm, Hayes said.
Cameras and motion detectors were also part of the system.
Hayes said that because the system was noted in a Dane County Human Services report that became part of Drabek's court case, the courts and the district attorney's office knew about it all along.
On cross examination by Hayes, Frasier said that the girl rattled off a list of diagnoses she had, including autism, Asperger's syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, reactive attachment disorder and anorexia.
Speaking with Chritton at the hospital, Frasier said, he said he had struggled with her mental health issues without finding any solutions to them.
Frasier said he concluded at the time that the girl was in an imminent danger from Chritton.