ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Video of Jessica Beagley punishing her screaming adopted son with hot sauce and a cold shower first landed the Anchorage mom on "Dr. Phil." Then it landed her in court. On Tuesday, an Anchorage jury decided Beagley's unorthodox parenting was indeed a crime, finding the 36-year-old mother of six guilty of misdemeanor child abuse.
Beagley faces up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine, with sentencing scheduled for Monday in Anchorage. It took the jury of three men and three women a single day to find the so-called "hot sauce mom" guilty in a case that ignited blustery legal arguments on cable news shows and drew media attention in Russia, where the Beagleys adopted twins in 2008.
Prosecutor Cynthia Franklin, who told the jury that Beagley abused the boy in an attempt to get on national TV, called the verdict a just one.
"(The jury) concluded that it is child abuse to hurt your child as an audition for a television show," she said.
Defense lawyer Willam Ingaldson had argued Beagley struggled to correct the troubled boy's bad behavior and was reaching out for help. That's not a crime, he argued.
"The way the law is written ... makes it really difficult for a parent to discipline your kids and not be subject to other people's subjective ideas of what is right or wrong," the defense lawyer said.
Beagley stood blank-faced as the verdict was read Tuesday afternoon. She quickly walked out of the courtroom with her husband, Gary, an Anchorage police officer. The couple did not respond to questions from reporters as they hurried to a stairwell.
The Beagleys adopted the boy in the video and his brother when they were 5 years old. Beagley emailed the "Dr. Phil" show a year later, in 2009, in an effort to appear on a segment titled "Angry Moms," the prosecution said. More than a year later, the producers replied and encouraged her to send video.
Beagley did, but the producers asked her to send additional video of her doling out punishment, Franklin said. The show promoted the resulting Nov. 17 "Mommy Confessions" segment with clips of the boy screaming, Beagley saying she felt "out of control" and images of audience members in tears.
"Can this stressed-out mom get the guidance she needs to control her temper and reform her discipline techniques?" asked the show's website, teasing the episode. "Can she establish a bond with her son? And, do her actions constitute child abuse? ... It's an intense Dr. Phil you don't want to miss!"
After the segment aired, the clips of Beagley angrily forcing the boy to hold a swig of hot sauce in his mouth -- "Don't you spit it at me!" -- and forcing him, wailing, to take a cold shower gained a new audience online. Viewers began debating whether Beagley's parenting was tough, but akin to spanking, or cruelly abusive long before a jury was asked to decide if she committed a crime.
Several people who saw the footage called the Anchorage police. "Without a doubt, if (Beagley) hadn't gone on 'Dr. Phil,' this never would've happened and there wouldn't be charges," Ingaldson said after the verdict. The Beagleys are a loving family, he said. Beagley "was trying, in the best interest of the kids, to treat them and make them better people as kids and adults."
But Franklin said jurors were likely swayed by the combination of punishments "piled on top of one another" as shown in clips filmed by another of Beagley's children. "She was demonstrating that she could be mean so she could get on the show," Franklin said.
An assistant to the Russian Commissioner of Children's Rights said in January that there was a chance Russian authorities would seek the twin boys' return to their home country if Beagley were found guilty. But it was unclear Tuesday what action, if any, they planned to take in the wake of the jury's verdict.
Andrey Bondarev, a representative from the Russian Consulate General's office in Seattle, said interest in Russia has been intense because of the boy's remaining ties to the country. "They made a big mistake punishing an adopted Russian boy before the cameras and sending this video to Dr. Phil, participating in the show," Bondarev said.
Bondarev visited the Beagleys' home several times after Jessica Beagley was charged in January and didn't see any reason why the boys should be removed from the home, he said.
Still, Bondarev said Beagley's punishment of the boy was clearly abuse.
"The whole discussion could be, 'What (happened) outside the video? What happened prior to the video? What happened after?' " Bondarev said.
Bondarev said any decision by Russian authorities on how to pursue the case would likely come after Beagley's sentencing on Monday.
Ingaldson, the defense lawyer, said he hopes there is no attempt to remove the twins.
"It would be really tragic if that is the case, because these kids are surrounded in a good, caring, loving family that are trying to do the best for their kids."
(c) 2011, Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska).
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