A woman from Sarasota, Florida was found guilty of having murdered her autistic stepdaughter on a homemade torture device.
In August of 2012, Melissa Stoddard moved from the North Carolina home of her biological mother for her own protection — she claimed her brother had touched her inappropriately — and into the Florida home of her biological father, Kenneth Stoddard.
He and his wife, Misty, attempted to care for Melissa, but claimed that the autistic child could not be controlled. At some point between her arrival in August and her death in December, it became common practice to tie Melissa to a makeshift device used by Kenneth and Misty in sexual bondage fantasies.
According to her son at trial, once she tied her stepdaughter to the board, Misty would stuff a sock in Melissa’s mouth and wrap duct tape around her head.
On the witness stand, Misty argued that she restrained her stepdaughter for “her own protection,” as well as that of the other children in the house, and that she only restrained Melissa in this manner twice.
Prosecutors claimed that Misty’s story was inconsistent with the injuries found on her body at the time of her death. A poorly healed black scab on her lower back was likely the result of her attempting to break free of the board on multiple occasions, and the scarring on her lips was consistent with having been frequently gagged.
Prosecutor Suzanne O’Donnell acknowledged in closing statements that “parenting is hard, and parenting an autistic child is harder — but parents do it every day.”
“They don’t kill their children.”
It only took the jury two-and-a-half hours to find Misty Stoddard guilty of murdering her stepdaughter. Melissa’s father, Kenneth, has also been charged with evidence tampering and aggravated child abuse. His trial begins later this summer.
Watch a report on the trial from ABC Action News below.
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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