INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A South Bend grandmother who knew her son habitually beat and burned some of his children and had bargained with him to decrease the severity of the attacks faced neglect charges Thursday after prosecutors said the father pummeled one of his sons to death.
The grandmother, Dellia Castille, 53, was being held on $15,000 cash bond. She was arraigned Thursday and an initial hearing was set for Nov. 29, said Lora Bentley, a spokeswoman for the St. Joseph County prosecutor's office.
Castille's 35-year-old son, Terry Sturgis, who has been charged in the Nov. 4 beating death of his 10-year-old son Tramelle, was being held without bond on charges of murder and battery. He has pleaded not guilty. His trial is scheduled for March 19. If convicted of murder, he could face 45 to 65 years in prison.
The surviving boys, aged 8 and 14, told police that they suffered repeated beatings and torture at the hands of their father, who they said hit them with a wooden club wrapped in duct tape and a broken table leg the night Tramelle died. Sturgis had two other children, but they weren't included in the allegations.
Sturgis' 14-year-old son told police his father had burned all of the boys on their legs and stomachs with an iron and used a lighter to heat a screwdriver with which he burned the two older boys' torsos and genitals. The teen also said Sturgis had burned him with a torch made from a can of roach spray and a lighter.
Emergency workers who responded to a call at the home Castille and Sturgis shared with several children found Tramelle unconscious, with multiple bruises and burns and a severely broken arm, along with other injuries both old and new. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
According to a probable cause affidavit, Sturgis told investigators that the boy had fallen down the stairs, but later acknowledged that he had beaten Tramelle and his two brothers with a wooden club during a nightlong torrent of abuse.
The boys told police that Castille was aware of the beatings and had applied cocoa butter to some of their burns. The 14-year-old said Castille had offered to do laundry for Sturgis if he would stop beating the boys, according to the probable cause affidavit. The teen said Sturgis would ask Castille which child she wanted to save, and instead of choosing she would pay him to stop beating them.
The affidavit said Sturgis' 8-year-old son told police that Castille often would have one of the boy's cousins take over when Sturgis was beating them with a belt because she knew that Sturgis "whooped" them too hard.
St. Joseph County Prosecutor Michael Dvorak said Castille endangered the children by leaving them in an abusive situation.
"She could have extricated those kids from that situation simply by making a phone call," Dvorak said.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Kimmel couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
Court documents said Castille didn't tell Department of Child Services workers about the abuse when they visited the home. She eventually acknowledged to police that she had heard Sturgis threaten to "whoop" the kids and had paid him to stop the beatings, the affidavit said.
Even though Castille wasn't formally charged with failing to report child abuse, Dvorak said she had a clear legal duty to tell authorities because she was a part-time caretaker for the children. Department of Child Services spokeswoman Ann Houseworth said Indiana law requires anyone who reasonably suspects abuse to report it.
"We all have a moral responsibility to report what we see," Dvorak said.