Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Lebanon County Couple Charged with Prolonged Assault and Abuse of their Five Adopted Children

On Wednesday, Lebanon County District Attorney Pier Hess Graf announced charges against an Annville couple for the prolonged assault and abuse of their five adopted children. 

On February 2, 2021, the Lebanon County Detective Bureau charged Stephanie A. Duncan and Robert Duncan with multiple Counts of Aggravated Assault, Simple Assault, Tampering with or Fabricating Physical Evidence, Endangering the Welfare of a Child, and conspiring with one another to commit these heinous acts. The Defendants remain incarcerated on monetary bail pending their Preliminary Hearing.

On January 12, 2021, the Defendants’ 11 year old son, L.D., was rushed to the Hershey Medical Center. The child required emergent medical care; L.D. was unresponsive and hypothermic. His blood pressure presented as abnormally low. Test results showed his blood had low potassium levels, an electrolyte disturbance, and an excessive amount of sodium.

An examination of L.D.’s body revealed bruises on his neck, shoulders, back, abdomen, hip, and genitals. The medical staff determined the location of the child’s bruises were not consistent with accidental injury.

Through their course of care, medical professionals determined L.D. did not have a pre-existing medical condition to which they could attribute his injuries. The child’s significant hypothermia could only be caused by prolonged exposure to extreme cold.

Hospital staff spoke with L.D.’s mother, Stephanie Duncan. S. Duncan told staff her child went to bed the night before in a normal fashion with a headache. She had no explanation for his weakened state or issues within his blood.

The Lebanon County Detective Bureau commenced an investigation. Detectives responded to the Duncan residence on the evening of L.D.’s hospitalization. They learned the Defendants adopted L.D. as well as 4 other children who resided in the family’s home. The children ranged in age from 6 to 15 years old.

The oldest three children had separate bedrooms in the family’s basement. L.D.’s room contained a bare, concrete floor. The room had a mattress with bedding; the mattress rested directly on top of the concrete floor. A space heater ran in the middle of the room, and directly faced the mattress. The child’s bedroom contained nothing on the walls and very minimal personal items. Investigators noted the room smelled strongly of bleach. The Defendants placed a video camera in the child’s ceiling; S. Duncan told law enforcement the cameras were live-stream and used during daytime hours only.

S. Duncan gave Detectives her explanation for L.D.’s recent hospitalization. She stated the child went to bed the evening before; he appeared physically fine. S. Duncan claimed she checked on L.D. at 9 a.m. the next morning and believed he was asleep. Around noon, S. Duncan stated she tried to wake the little boy but found him cold and unresponsive. Ultimately, an ambulance rushed L.D. to the hospital for care. She again provided no reasoning or cause for the child’s dire physical condition.

On January 15, 2021, Lebanon County’s Children and Youth Agency initiated an emergency petition to take custody of the Duncan’s children. That same day, C&Y obtained a Court Order which granted them custody and removed the children from the Duncan’s home. L.D. remained hospitalized.
Over the next ten days, forensic interviewers from the Children’s Resource Center interviewed all of the children – including L.D. The children described a caste system within the family. The Defendants inflicted the most abuse upon L.D. Their next targets were typically B.D. or J.D. These are the three oldest children; they are the only children who sleep in the basement. The children described the two youngest children, T.D. and A.D., as getting the least amount of abuse. Both Defendants inflicted punches and strangulation on all four male children; the Defendants smacked their youngest child, a 6 year old girl, in the mouth.

Each child provided statements during his or her interview which depicted graphic punishments, restrictions, and the denial of basic, necessary sustenance from both S. Duncan and R. Duncan. Each child provided statements which also illustrated the disturbing experience of watching S. Duncan and R. Duncan physically attack his or her siblings. Even minor misbehaviors, such as taking too long to consume water or complete a chore, resulted in horrific, violent abuse.

Prior to his hospitalization, the Defendants kept L.D. locked in his bedroom. His diet consisted of oatmeal, peanut butter, and carrots. The Defendants severely restricted L.D.’s water intake; he went for days at a time without water. R. Duncan caught L.D. ‘stealing’ water from the sink; he choked L.D. to the point he fell over and gasped for air multiple times.

The children revealed the state of L.D.’s bedroom as found by police was entirely fabricated by the Defendants. In reality, L.D.’s bedroom lacked any contents. L.D. slept nightly on a cold, concrete floor; he slept only in a diaper as the Defendants refused to provide him clothing. The children indicated the Defendants placed a hook and eye lock on the outside of L.D.’s bedroom door to prevent both L.D. from escaping and the other children from freeing L.D.

In the evening, the Defendants forced the children to remove all light bulbs from the oldest three boys’ bedrooms. L.D. thus spent every night alone, cold, and naked on a concrete floor in utter darkness.
A forensic review of S. Duncan’s phone showed pictures taken of L.D. at nighttime, via the video cameras. The photo depicts the disturbing image of L.D. facedown on the concrete floor, clothed only in a diaper, in his empty bedroom. The date of the photo was a mere  7 days prior to L.D.’s hospitalization.

The children revealed all of their bedrooms contained video cameras, and the Defendants monitored their behavior day and night. If they slept in a position the Defendants deemed inappropriate, punishment of running in place for hours was inflicted. The cameras allowed the Defendants omnipresent abilities for their abuse.

L.D. suffered near daily torment at the hands of the Defendants. They rarely allowed L.D. to exit his room and use the bathroom. L.D. thus peed in his room often; whenever he peed in his room, the Defendants forced L.D. to clean it with bleach. As the floor dried, the Defendants forced L.D. to run in place. If L.D. complained about the bleach, S. Duncan poured it onto his head.

On the day of his hospitalization, S. Duncan found L.D. unresponsive in his bedroom. The little boy was unable to walk or speak. S. Duncan smacked L.D., grabbed him by his neck, and drug him up the stairs to the bathroom. She forced L.D. into the shower; the child was unable to stand. S. Duncan forced L.D. to eat; the child vomited up anything consumed. She took his temperature; the thermometer produced a result of ‘low.’

S. Duncan directed her oldest child to place a mattress and bedding in L.D.’s room. She then placed L.D. back into his bedroom. All other items found in L.D.’s room were placed there by S. Duncan or at her direction. Only hours later, when L.D.’s condition failed to improve, did S. Duncan seek medical attention for the little boy.

The children stated S. Duncan told them to lie if questioned by “agents.” They stated the hook and eye lock was removed prior to the arrival of police. R. Duncan arrived home after his wife left with L.D. for the hospital. By the time law enforcement examined L.D.’s bedroom, investigators believe R. Duncan removed the hook and eye lock from L.D.’s door. Both Defendants actively mislead medical professionals and investigators about L.D.’s home life and reasons for his hospitalization.

Dr. Kathryn Crowell of the HMC Child Protection Team ultimately opined the little boy’s physical condition constituted ‘serious bodily injury’ as defined by law. She further stated his condition resulted from exposure to cold, significant fluid restriction, possible ingestion of a sodium-containing liquid such as diluted bleach, and physical abuse. The investigation revealed that without the emergent medical care provided by HMC, L.D. would be deceased.

“As parents, the Defendants had the duty to protect, care for, and unconditionally love their children. 
They violated every aspect of their duties and instead created a household of unspeakable fear, violence, torment, and abuse. L.D. slept every night alone, in an empty room, on an ice-cold concrete floor. He received no parental love or comfort. All of our victims suffered at their hands for years with no hope or end in sight. Unable to escape or rescue one another, they each at young ages resigned themselves to merely survive,” said DA Hess Graf. “I want to commend the excellent efforts of the Hershey Medical Center, without them, this little boy would not be alive. I also want to thank the efforts of Sergeant Michael Dipalo and Detective Stephen Kiefer from our agency – their dedication to this investigation was evident throughout.”