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    Ruptured stomach led to death of wandering teen, report says

    The Pennsylvania stepfather who put the emaciated boy on a bus to Florida denies lacing his sandwiches with pills.

    ©Associated Press
    September 28, 2002


    Infections resulting from a ruptured stomach wall killed an emaciated 18-year-old who died in a Milton hospital after several days of wandering the Florida Panhandle.

    Reporting on an autopsy performed Friday on the body of Chester Lee Miller, Andi Minyard, an associate medical examiner, said the rupture could have been caused by disease, a hard blow to the abdomen or ingestion of a toxic substance.

    It wouldn't be caused solely by malnutrition, she said, although she added that the boy was not "nutritionally sound."

    Miller weighed 62 pounds when he knocked on a stranger's door in Milton Sept. 21 and asked for help. He told police he had ridden a bus from his home in Hazleton, Pa., to find his birth father, whom he hadn't seen in more than a year.

    Prosecutors in Pennsylvania have charged Miller's stepfather, Paul Hoffman, and mother, Lyda Miller, with intentionally starving the boy. They are considering whether to upgrade the charge to murder.

    Before he died Wednesday, four days after being hospitalized when he sought help, Miller told authorities his stepfather and mother kept him prisoner in a bedroom, fed him only table scraps once a day and beat him frequently. He said Hoffman finally bought him a bus ticket and told him to go find his birth father in Florida.

    In separate interviews from the Luzerne County, Pa., jail Friday, both Hoffman and Lyda Miller said the teen was taking Adderall, an amphetamine prescribed for attention deficit disorder.

    One of the drug's side effects is loss of appetite and weight loss. It is also addictive and can be fatal if taken in large amounts.

    Lyda Miller said that soon after the boy left for Florida, Hoffman told her he had put powder from about a dozen crushed pills in sandwiches they had given the boy for the trip.

    Hoffman denied that, though admitting that he told Charles' mother he had poisoned the sandwiches. He said he was angry at her at the time and made up the story out of spite.

    "You don't say it if you didn't do it," Lyda Miller countered.

    She added, though, that she didn't tell her son about the threat when he called from Washington to report on his trip's progress.

    "I said, 'Chester, did you eat all them sandwiches?' and he said yes," she said. ". . . I thought he would be okay."

    Miller said Hoffman had been abusive, beat her and her son regularly and refused to let them leave the house alone. She said that starting in May, Hoffman often wouldn't let the teen eat.

    "I tried plenty of times to give Chester food, and if I did, Paul would push it off the table, or he would take it and throw it in the garbage," she said.

    Hoffman denied he was abusive. He said the teen, who had lived with them for about 18 months, was offered all the food he wanted. He said he hit Chester "now and again," but denied confining him. Hoffman said he asked the teen to leave for Florida because he had become violent and was hitting his mother.

    "When he left us, he was healthy," Hoffman said.

    "By no means has he been adequately cared for," medical examiner Minyard's report on the dead youth said.

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