A Titusville, Fla., police investigator in court on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, held up the tiny Spider-Man pajamas a boy was wearing when he was found after he said he was locked and starved by his father and his mate.(Photo: Andrew Ford, Florida Today)
Andrew Ford, Florida Today
TITUSVILLE, Fla. - For a moment, the boy smiled. He laughed. He talked about Star Wars and Lego. He looked much better than he did in photos taken two years ago.
Just a few minutes before he arrived in court Wednesday for the trial of a woman accused of starving him nearly to death, the state laid out evidence against her. An investigator held up the tiny Spiderman pajamas he was wearing when he was found - boys size 8. Prosecutors showed photos of how he looked at the time. Intense light blue eyes. Gaunt cheeks. Skeletal ribs.
But when he walked into the courtroom, there were no obvious signs of what had happened. He's now 14, not quite 5-feet tall, pale, slender but healthy. He had freckles, ears that stick out, a short, smart haircut. He wore a gray track jacket over a blue polo shirt buttoned to the throat.
He spoke softly as he recounted his time with Sharon Glass, who faces multiple felony charges, including aggravated child abuse. Police said she and Michael Marshall were caregivers for the boy and other children. Marshall is in jail awaiting trial on similar charges.
On the stand, the boy gave short answers to the prosecutor's questions. He first met Glass in 2009, when he was in the third grade. She was dating Marshall, his father. Soon, they were living together. Soon, he called her "mom."
Soon, he started getting in trouble.
The first time he recalled in court was when Glass accused him of stealing an iPod. He testified he didn't take it. He was later accused when other things went missing. He was punished for taking fruit off a tree and for stealing food.
About a week before Christmas 2010, a fire destroyed their home. They stayed in a hotel. That would be one of many tough holidays for the boy. Through his description of the abuses that followed, he didn't shed a tear. He didn't falter or change his tone of voice. Glass remained equally expressionless.
The most serious punishment came in the house on Barna Avenue.
"I was constantly locked up," he told prosecutors.
When he was put in his room, the boy would escape. When he did, Glass told Marshall she'd leave him if he didn't lock the boy up.
The boy told the court they put him in a closet, secured with a bungee cord and a desk. He stood before the jury to illustrate with a laser pointer how they wrapped a cord around the knobs of the sliding closet doors to keep him inside. Glass and Marshall wouldn't talk to him.
"Not unless they were telling me to be quiet, basically," he said.
He'd sleep on a pile of clothes. When they took that away, he'd pull his arms and legs inside his shirt to stay warm. But he got in trouble for stretching it out.
They gave him diapers so they wouldn't have to let him out to relieve himself.
He said holidays passed while he was inside - Valentines Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter. He ate macaroni noodles. Ramen noodles. Sometimes canned vegetables.
When he did get out of the closet, he'd take food and hide it. Rolls, hamburgers, anything.
"They'd find a way to keep me secured," he said.
He said his dad zip-tied him standing to the post of a bunk bed. He stood there for three days. His dad spoon-fed him mashed potatoes. Glass saw, standing outside the door to the room.
The boy said he noticed himself getting smaller. He could wrap his hand around his arm. His clothes were baggy. He chewed through the zip ties and escaped.
But he got caught. He got in trouble.
Later, he said, they locked him in a bathroom. They put a board over the one small window in the room, because they thought he was getting out that way. He was warned against running away and he wouldn't leave through the window.
"Because it was too high," he said. Too high to get back in.
On Christmas 2011, he was let out of the bathroom to watch other children open gifts. He was put back in the bathroom and given a stocking full of coal.
"I just cried."
He waited until March 2012 to be rescued when a family friend raised the alarm. At the time, investigators said another month could have killed him.
After hours in court, the boy walked out of the room - away from stories of eating toothpaste to stave off hunger, away from the photo they showed him of his skinny self standing next to a police officer, away from drama that would later unfold when Glass cried as her own son testified about her.