“Basic notions of offense and punishment, of transgression and forgiveness, seem to lose their grip in the face of profound, far reaching consecrations of the human.”
–Peter Dews, The Idea of Evil, 2007
Free-lance journalist Rollo Romig writes …
“Evil has become the word we apply to perpetrators who we’re both unable and unwilling to do anything to repair, and for whom all of our mechanisms of justice seem unequal: it describes the limits of what malevolence we’re able to bear. In the end, it’s a word that says more about the helplessness of the accuser than it does the transgressor... For those kinds of crimes, 'evil' is still the only word we’ve got.”
(Rollo Romig. “What Do We Mean By 'Evil'?” The New Yorker. July 25, 2012.)
A Case In Point
Edwina Louis, Bobbi Sue Pack, and Juan Sanchez of Wheelersburg, Ohio, are described by Judge William T. Marshall as the most evil people he has ever seen. In April 20114, a grand jury issued a 23-count superseding indictment against this local trio.
Louis, her daughter Pack, and her daughter’s live-in boyfriend Sanchez had been arrested in February 2014 when authorities removed four children, all younger than 12, from the family's rented Wheelersburg home. Detectives said that three of the children had been beaten, tied, chained and starved, and two of them had been raped.
The horrendous charges included 16 counts of rape, 3 counts of endangering children, 2 counts kidnapping, along with a single count of tampering with evidence. There was also a sexually violent predator specification on the rape counts, due to the young age of the victims. All of the children involved were under age 13.
One defendant was tried. And, after less than six hours of deliberation, a jury found Edwina Louis, 52, guilty on four counts of rape, three counts of child endangerment, and one count of tampering with evidence. Louis was found not guilty on the remaining counts against her.
The judge then sentenced Louis to the of four consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, plus an additional consecutive 37 years
Co-defendents Bobbi Sue Pack, 31 – the children's biological mother – and Juan Sanchez, 44, accepted plea deals. Each pleaded guilty to two counts of rape. Sanchez also pleaded guilty to one count of endangering children.
Sanchez was then sentenced 20 years to life on each rape count to run consecutively, and 5 years sentence on one endangerment count to run concurrent with the rape charge.
Pack was sentenced to 10 years to life on the rape counts to run consecutively. Both will have to register as sex offenders if they are released from prison.
Louis will spend the rest of her life in jail after being found guilty of the rape of her own grandchildren. She portrayed herself as a “failed grandmother.” Her defense attorney Matthew Loesch told jurors that if there was any abuse at all — and he said he wasn't sure there was — his client didn’t do it. Louis, he said, was too sick and too frail. She has emphysema and diabetes and needed an oxygen tank and a wheelchair in the courtroom.
Loesch said Louis was afraid of Sanchez and, even after the children had told her in 2013 that the man was abusing them, she didn’t act on those suspicions, because she couldn’t live on her own and felt trapped: “She had nowhere else to go.”
Assistant Scioto County Prosecutor Pat Apel portrayed her as a woman who defrauded the government welfare system, used six aliases, and made no effort to get help for her two granddaughters when they reported they had been raped by Juan Carlos Sanchez. He said that Louis had been a guardian for the children for years and had collected a total of nearly $2,000 in government benefits each month for herself and on behalf of them. None of the adults in the home had worked in years.
During the trial, two girls, then 10 and 12, testified from an adjacent room and told horror stories of being raped and beaten by Sanchez and being tied up in both ropes and chains and being beaten by Louis. One told about how the man she called “Dad” touched her and raped her, sometimes every day.
And when Assistant Scioto County Prosecutor Jamie Hutchinson asked the girl whether she had ever told anyone that she was being raped, the girl said “yes.”
“My grandma (Louis),” she said.
“What did she do?” Hutchinson asked the girl.
“She got mad.”
And later, after authorities visited their family’s Wheelersburg home a year ago and started asking questions, Hutchinson asked, what did Grandma do then?
“She said if we told a lie (to police) we’d get to go out to eat,” the girl said. “If we didn’t, we’d be dead before they came back to get us.”
The two girls and one boy described how Louis had tied them up for long periods of time, even weeks, being untied only long enough to attend online classes and to go to the bathroom. Both girls testified how they had been chained to the wooden frames of their beds.
Along with the stories, images of the kids scarred and skinny bodies were presented for the jury to view.
Jodi Conkel, a detective with the Scioto County sheriff’s office, showed photos of crisscrossed scars on the children’s backs and shoulders and what she said were binding markings on their necks, stomachs and waists.
Detective Conkel testified: “They’ve been locked up like dogs, worse than dogs, tied up and chained and sexually assaulted. They’ve been living in pure hell.”
The children said they were rarely fed, and medical authorities told the court they were underweight. It was reported that the refrigerator and the freezer in the house had locks on them with only the adults wearing the keys around their necks.
Two girls also said they were made to stand against the wall for punishment with their arms outstretched holding cans or books for hours , and if they let their hands down or dropped the objects, they were beaten and slapped.
One of the young girls matter-of-factly told how her grandmother would wet down the leather belt she used for whippings because she knew that made it hurt worse with every snap.
Discovery – Here, But Long Ignored
Loesch and Louis took the jury through her history of being born in Portsmouth, moving to Florida, then to the Virgin Islands, and to several places back in Scioto County. The family reportedly moved back to the southern Ohio community in August 2011 from the Virgin Islands. Along the way, Louis encountered Sanchez, who had a relationship with Pack, producing a child. It is believed the abuse has happened since at least then.
Authorities had their suspicions that the children were being mistreated for years; however, complaints were never followed up with any home visits.
When the story broke in February of 2014, Lorra Fuller, the executive director of Scioto County Children Services, told The Columbus Dispatch that her agency had had no contact with the family until the teacher from the online school called authorities.
But Children Services records provided as evidence at the trial showed that wasn’t true. Assistant Prosecutor Julie Hutchinson subpoenaed the Children Services records for the trial and the records showed on at least four separate occasions throughout much of 2012 and early 2013, complaints were made to Children Services.
Time and again, Children Services of Scioto County had failed to follow up the calls and make the necessary checks.
A February 27, 2012, complaint about neglect and physical abuse based on bruises and scratches on the children’s backs.
A June 25, 2012, complaint that the children were being locked in their bedrooms and not being fed.
A Nov. 27, 2012, complaint of neglect and that the children were being beaten savagely with a belt and that the food in the house was kept locked away.
And a March 22, 2013, complaint of physical and emotional abuse.
Children Services workers took every call and talked to the children at school, but through their screening process, decided to never follow up with any home visits, Hutchinson said.
Scioto County Prosecutor Apel said the message was clear: “Children Services failed these children.”
To hide the abuse from prying eyes, Bobbi Sue Pack had enrolled at least one of her daughters in the Ohio Virtual Academy.
The teachers don’t see their students in person daily in that sort of school. Bobbi Sue Pack probably thought she was being clever. She hadn’t counted on the bravery of her daughter.
Suspicions were aroused after the nine-year-old girl sent a message to her teacher at her virtual school saying that she and her brothers and sisters were being starved, tied up, and beaten.
Almost every word in the online chat was spelled wrong, but the messages the girl sent a year ago, if corrected, would read like this: I need your help. I need you to call 911. They are not feeding us. Please do it. They are tying us to our beds and beating us. Just call now. They need to hurry. My sister is hurt. She’s badly swollen. Don’t tell my family.
The teacher immediately called the police along with child protective services.
When police arrived, those in the house scrambled to cut the ropes from the children and threw the chains into a plastic bag and then into a garbage can.
All four children who were under 12 were removed from the house by emergency court order six days later.
A therapist said the kids were so un-socialized, so uneducated and deprived that they were nearly feral. When the children first were interviewed by detectives, they were unsocial, terrified, and the two middle children could barely speak. When the children were finally questioned, the only boy in the group of four was violent and angry.For weeks he would only say “I hate you!” to anyone who came near.
Prosecutor Apel repeatedly told the jurors that he didn’t have to prove that Louis raped anyone. He didn't even have to prove that she tied any of the ropes or handed out any of the beatings herself. She allowed it all, and that is bad enough, he said.
“The person who holds the ladder is as guilty as the burglar who climbs up and goes in the window,” Apel said. “This is a disturbing and horrific case, and Edwina Louis is at the center of it all.”
When Edwina Louis took the witness stand, she looked at the jurors and said her grandchildren are liars. “None of them,” she said, “none of them has told the truth.”
“Why?” Assistant Scioto County Prosecutor Pat Apel asked Louis as he cross-examined her during her trial in Scioto County Common Pleas Court. “Why would they lie on you?”
“I wish I knew,” Louis answered.
Louis testified that she never hurt the children. The chains in the house? They were for the dog. And those bruises and scars they had? She’d seen them, she said, but knew they came from when the kids used ropes to play “cops and robbers.”
“Why didn’t you take them to the hospital? Why didn’t you call the sheriff? Why didn’t you even kick Juan Sanchez out? Why didn’t you run out the front door and call a neighbor for help?” Apel asked Louis, and then he offered his own an answer. “The reason is because ... they were your paycheck.”
All she had ever done, Louis said, was to spank them with an open hand and to make them face the wall as punishment. On the stand, she spread her arms out wide to show how they had been forced to stand, but said they didn’t have to do it for very long and she denied making the children hold cans or books in their hands as the girls testified had happened regularly.
Louis appeared fairly unemotional throughout her testimony, except to roll her eyes occasionally and to alternately seem exasperated or exhausted.
Louis said she did have some regrets. “I failed my grandchildren,” she said. “I should have done more. I beat myself up for that every day. I’m sorry.”
'This woman, who never shed a tear or showed even an ounce of remorse, will never get out of prison,' Scioto County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Pat Apel said.
The children are now with a new foster family who is able to give them the love and attention they require and deserve.
(Holly Zachariah. “Trial of Scioto County woman accused of grandchildren's abuse underway.” The Columbus Dispatch. March 9, 2015.)
(Holly Zachariah. “Children testify that grandmother failed to stop abuse. The Columbus Dispatch. March 10, 2015.)
(Holly Zachariah. “Grandmother says children are lying about rape, abuse.” The Columbus Dispatch. March 11, 2015.)
(Holly Zachariah. “Grandmother sentenced to four life terms in children's rapes.” The Columbus Dispatch. March 12, 2015.)
You may ask why a just and loving God permits such evil and terrible suffering to exist. He even frequently allows this darkness to prevail. Surely God gave humans the free will to sin. And, armed with many sinful motives, many people continue to serve the dark side.
That puts finding justice for these evildoers directly in the hands of other humans.
Philosopher Edmund Burke is credited with saying, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." God must have empowered the heads and hearts of these terribly abused children in Wheelersburg with Almighty abilities as they mustered the courage to report their grandmother, their mother, and their “dad” for their unspeakable, evil crimes.
Now, it will take a village to mend the wrong that has been done. Let us pray that good will always triumph over evil and that even the very young may always find strong voices to speak out.