Boy in basement testifies: 'I tried to commit suicide'
Detroit — The 13-year-old Detroit boy who was found in the basement of his family's home after an 11-day search testified Tuesday to a lonely life of intense exercise, punishment and an attempted suicide during a hearing for his father and stepmother, who are charged with child abuse and torture.
In harrowing testimony, Charlie Bothuell V said he was beaten with a PVC pipe after briefly running away when he was 11 years old.
Charlie said he wandered the neighborhood nearly three hours until police found him and took him home. After police left, the boy's father told him to lie across the dining room table and hit him with a wooden stick and a PVC pipe, Charlie said.
"After that, any whupping I had was done with the PVC pipe," testified Charlie, who said he doesn't know how many times he was struck with the pipe in the years after he tried to run away in 2012.
He said he was hit all over his body with the pipe.
"My head, my sides, my butt, my feet," he said. The skin on his backside split open from the blows, he said.
"I could feel it and I saw it."
During subsequent punishments, Charlie was told to roll over to expose more parts of his body to be hit, he said.
Charlie said he could not recall if he was clothed during the beatings. It got bad enough that the boy attempted suicide in May 2013 by slashing his wrists, he said.
"It was a terrible place to be, the way I would be whupped and treated," Charlie said. "Basically I had gotten so upset and depressed and sad about being there, to the point where I had tried to commit suicide."
Charlie's father, Charles Bothuell IV, and stepmother Monique Dillard-Bothuell looked straight ahead or at their notes as Charlie testified. The two face child abuse and torture charges after Charlie was found June 25 in their basement after an 11-day search.
The younger Bothuell appeared to focus on his hands as he answered questions from the prosecutor. He was asked to speak up several times when his voice became too soft to hear.
Charlie said he lived with his father and stepmother for about two years beginning in November 2011. He attended school in the 5th grade for about one month before switching to homeschooling in December 2011, he said.
His father taught him at home using two English and science textbooks taken from an elementary school, Charlie said. When he returned to traditional school for 7th grade in September 2014, he had trouble keeping up.
"Some things I wasn't taught or just didn't know," he said.
Charlie said he slept in the den of his father's home on the 1300 block of Nicolet Place in Lafayette Park from November 2011 until October 2013. After that, he said he slept on the couch.
"Basically I got in trouble and part of my punishment was to go lay down on the couch," he said. "That was where I slept from then on."
Charlie called another punishment "reaching for excellence," when he was told to stand in a corner with his arms in the air until he was allowed to stop.
He also detailed a daily exercise routine that began with a protein shake at 5 a.m. and included up to four hours of workouts, ordered by his father.
The boy's father would beat him if he did not complete the exercises or his school assignments, Charlie said. He often was forced to continue working out after the beatings, he said.
During beatings, Charlie said he begged his father to stop.
"I'd say 'Please stop,' and 'I'll do better,' " Charlie testified.
Bothuell IV also threatened to send Charlie to military school in Utah or Haiti, the boy said. Dillard-Bouthell also punched and choked him.
Charlie said he didn't have friends because he wasn't allowed outside, unless he was going to the grocery store or with his stepmother to take his younger brother, who has autism, to school.
Charlie said he never told his mother about the abuse because he did not think it would make a difference.
"I just didn't feel comfortable," he said. "I didn't think anything would change and I would still end up in the same place."
Charlie testified he now lives with his mother and 9-year-old brother. Defense attorney Shawn Patrick Smith said after the hearing that Charlie leveled abuse accusations because he wanted to live with his mother.
"Everybody's got a motive," Smith said. "He wants to live with his mom. That's it."
Smith said the defense team plans to use cross examination to uncover inconsistencies in Charlie's testimony.
"I found his testimony to be not credible," Smith said. "I think as we get to cross examination we're going to find some major problems with what he said today compared to what he said before."
Smith said Charlie was never abused.
"It's news to me," he said of the PVC pipe beating allegations.
Judge Shannon Holmes scheduled more testimony for May 6, May 20 and June 8. After testimony is completed, the judge will decide whether the defendants will stand trial on the charges.
Earlier Tuesday, an investigator testified that Charlie appeared relieved his father wasn't home when he was found in his family's basement.
"As we were moving the boxes, (my partner) noticed a blanket on the floor and some food," Michigan State Police Det. Sgt. Kenneth Ducker said. "At that time, I had my flashlight out and was shining it toward the 55-gallon barrel and I noticed someone moving."
Ducker, a 26-year veteran with the State Police violent crime task force, testified Charlie appeared to be hiding behind the empty barrel. The investigator identified himself and told the boy to come out.
"He stood up. I asked him to come to me and he walked over to me," Ducker said. "I asked him if he was OK and he said 'Yes.' I gave him a hug."
On their way upstairs after the discovery, Charlie asked if his father was home, Ducker testified.
"I said no, and Charlie said, 'Good.' "
Ducker said he found Charlie after about an hour of searching the basement that was cluttered with boxes, trash, furniture and other debris.
"There were more boxes on the north side of the basement, stacked up approximately 6 feet or so," he said. Charlie was discovered after investigators began moving those boxes during their search.
Early in his testimony, Ducker described 10 photographs of the basement that were entered into evidence by the prosecution. He described seeing scattered boxes, an entertainment system, a headboard, and several food items including frosted flakes, Gatorade, pop bottles, protein bars and chicken bones.
During cross examination, defense attorneys repeatedly sparred with prosecutors over whether certain questions qualified as hearsay. Attorneys also emphasized the presence of a bathroom in the basement and the fact that there was no locked door leading into the basement.
Under cross examination, Ducker admitted Charlie "looked OK" when he was found, wearing a T-shirt, pajama pants and socks.
Attorney Shawn Smith asked Ducker if Charlie appeared like he had been living in the basement for 11 days.
"I have no idea how long Charlie was in the basement," Ducker said.
Smith also asked if Ducker thought Charlie was deceased before the boy was found.
"Let's be clear about it, you went down (into the basement) thinking you would find a dead child," Smith said.
Ducker insisted otherwise.
"I did not go down in the basement looking for a dead child," he said. "I did not think we'd find Charlie down there."
Instead, Ducker said he was searching for evidence like blood, wires, clothing or rope.
"It could have been anything," he said.
Much of Ducker's testimony Tuesday focused on searches of the basement prior to Charlie's recovery.
Ducker, who did not search the home before Charlie was found, said he did not know if other investigators had searched the basement during earlier home visits.
He added it was "unlikely" he would have failed to find the boy during a thorough search of the basement.
Attorneys also addressed witness sightings of Charlie in the neighborhood while he was missing, but Ducker said he did not find the claims to be credible.
Two other witnesses testified prior to Tuesday in four days of hearings.
Children's Hospital of Michigan physician Dr. Dena Nazer testified Charlie had suffered child abuse, while an undercover Detroit police officer discussed investigating the family's house the day Charlie was found.
The undercover officer testified April 15 and April 16 about the investigation into the case, which made national headlines and landed Bothuell IV on Nancy Grace's cable TV show.
The boy told staff at Children's Hospital that he was beaten by his father with a PVC pipe. He also told hospital staff his stepmother forced him into the basement and made threats in the past that she could murder him and no one would know since he was home-schooled.
Smith, Bothuell IV's defense lawyer, said the boy is a "liar" and he made up the story about being forced into the basement.