MONROE, N.C. (AP) — For an 11-year-old boy, it was a house of horrors.
He was beaten and starved, forced to sleep on a floor chained to part of a railroad tie. His punishment was just as harsh: Dorian Harper twisted the boy’s fingers with pliers. When Harper believed the boy had killed a chicken, he handcuffed him by his ankle to a porch with the dead animal around his neck to “teach him a lesson,” prosecutors said.
Then Harper used his training as an emergency room nurse to treat — and hide — the injuries. And all of it took place in front of four children who lived in the same house.
Harper, 58, admitted Wednesday in court that he abused the boy. He didn’t say why, except that things in the house just seemed to spin out of control.
“There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t been remorseful,” Harper told Judge Brad Long after he pleaded guilty to seven counts of child abuse, assault with a deadly weapon and maiming without intent. “I didn’t want this to happen.”
Prosecutor Cristin Dunne said the state accepted Harper’s plea only to spare the boy — and the other children in the house — from testifying. “They have been victimized enough by this man. …The facts are horrifying,” she said.
The Associated Press is not identifying the children because of the nature of the abuse.
Opening arguments had been expected to begin Wednesday. Instead, Harper pleaded guilty. Long sentenced him to six to 10 years in prison.
It was the latest twist in the case. Harper had rejected prosecutors’ plea deal Monday, saying he wanted the trial to go on. He and his girlfriend, Wanda Larson, also 58, were arrested after a sheriff’s deputy found the boy in November 2013.
Larson was the boy’s guardian and a Department of Social Services supervisor in Union County. Larson faces similar charges. She lost her job and has pleaded not guilty. No trial has been scheduled.
At the time of the arrest, four other children were living in the home — ages 7 to 14. Larsen had adopted them all and was in the process of adopting the 11-year-old.
During Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutors disclosed details of the abuse in the house. The couple lived there with farm animals on five acres just outside Monroe, southeast of Charlotte.
The abuse came to light when a sheriff’s deputy was called to investigate a report of a loose pig. While the officer tracked the pig’s whereabouts, he found the boy chained to the front porch holding a dead chicken.
Then the other four children opened the home’s front door, letting out Harper’s dogs. The deputy knew something was terribly wrong — the children were filthy, prosecutor Daniell Chunn said.
So was the house, “covered in dust, urine and animal feces,” an investigator said.
The children were removed from the house. They told investigators they were abused and forced to beg for scraps of food. They said Harper seemed to take out most of his rage on the 11-year-old.
The boy had scars all over his body, especially around the ankles, Chunn said. Harper used an electric wire to burn his face.
Prosecutors and investigators said that eventually, the boy was chained up all day. At night, he’d sleep on the floor with the others, chained to part of a railroad tie. The boy wasn’t given a blanket, but the other children made sure he was covered and gave him food when Harper wasn’t looking. During the day, the boy was chained to the porch.
The boy was in court Wednesday but left when prosecutors and investigators described the abuse.
Only one of the other children from the house spoke in court, saying Harper “deserves what he is getting.”
Jon Rowland took all five in as a foster parent.
“None of them could sleep,” Rowland said.
“The damage done to these children will last a lifetime,” he said, adding that Harper was “getting off easy.”
Harper’s attorney, Randolph Lee, told the judge that Harper was trained to save lives and did a good job at the hospital.
“I can’t explain what happened,” Lee said.
The house was stressful, Lee said — especially after Larson decided to homeschool the children. Harper worked the late shift, and she worked all day.
“He didn’t respond properly,” he said, and Harper “fell apart mentally.”