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    Starving teen dies after bus trip to Fla.

    The 62-pound boy said his parents fed him scraps and beat him, then sent him to search for his birth father.

    ©Associated Press
    September 26, 2002


    MILTON -- Janice Goodman answered the knock at the door of her Milton apartment Saturday and was stunned at what she saw.

    Before her stood an emaciated teenager with sunken eyes, barely able to stand. He asked if he could shower and rest.

    Goodman let him in and gave him a sandwich and something to drink. He soon threw up. Goodman called 911.

    Before the ambulance arrived, Goodman later told police, the boy told her "his parents had been very mean to him."

    "He looked like a Holocaust victim," Goodman said. "I felt worried for his safety. I felt as though he was going to die right there."

    During the next four days, as 18-year-old Chester Lee Miller's life ebbed away at Santa Rosa Medical Center in this Panhandle city, a fuller story of his ordeal unfolded.

    Hospital officials said the 5-foot-3 teen weighed 62 pounds as the result of severe malnutrition, and marks on his left hand, right wrist and right leg pointed to abuse.

    Miller confirmed that. He told police he had come from Hazleton, Pa., where his stepfather and mother kept him virtually imprisoned in a room and barely fed him.

    The case bore an eerie resemblance to that of a 7-year-old girl who was imprisoned for weeks in a bedroom in the Tampa home of her mother and a boyfriend. Fed only occasionally and bearing the marks of physical abuse, she weighed just 29 pounds and was near death when her father arrived this month from New York and rescued her. She is recovering and attending school in New York.

    The Hazleton case was every bit as disturbing. Police Detective Robert Ferdinand, who interviewed Miller, wrote in an affidavit that he didn't go to school and had no friends.

    Miller's stepfather and mother "allowed him to eat nothing all day and only fed him scraps and leftovers once each evening. . . . When asked about the marks on his body, he said that his parents spanked or hit him every day and that they struck him with the wire handle of a fly swatter."

    Miller said he had no idea why he had been mistreated. The affidavit said two other children in the home were "well taken care of."

    He told police that several days ago -- he wasn't sure exactly when -- his stepfather put him on a bus to Florida and told him to look for his birth father.

    Police say Miller may have wandered Florida for days before showing up at Goodman's door. She said he told her he had been turned away from the home of an uncle in nearby Bagdad.

    On Wednesday, Miller died. He never found his father.

    Miller's mother and stepfather, Lyda Miller, 37, and Paul Hoffman Sr., 38, were charged on Tuesday by Pennsylvania authorities with aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person.

    Hazleton police Chief Edward Harry said investigators plan to charge the couple with homicide.

    At a hearing Tuesday, Hoffman, who has a record of robbery and simple assault charges, said that he was on disability for mental illness and that he was "deeply sorry" for his actions.

    "I guess everybody has problems, and mine is the worst of all. I have no idea why I did it," he said after the hearing, according to the Standard-Speaker newspaper in Hazleton.

    The judge ordered the couple held on $500,000 bail. Two children in their home -- apparently in good health -- were removed into state custody.

    Theresa Joachimi, a supervisor at Santa Rosa, said the cause of death hasn't been determined, pending an autopsy.

    Investigators say they have located the boy's birth father and plan to interview him.

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