An Anchorage jury heard opening statements Wednesday in the trial of Jessica Beagley, an Anchorage mother accused of abusing her adopted Russian son by putting hot sauce in his mouth and forcing him into a cold shower as punishment for bad behavior.
Beagley, 36, faces one misdemeanor count of child abuse.
Municipal prosecutor Cynthia Franklin told the jurors that the abuse case centered around videos Beagley sent to the "Dr. Phil" show.
Beagley wrote in April 2009 to the show -- which features licensed therapist Phil McGraw doling out advice on national television -- after she saw a Dr. Phil segment called "Angry Moms." Beagley was having trouble dealing with behavioral problems with one of the two twin boys she and her husband, an Anchorage police officer, had adopted from Russia.
Producers from the show did not write back until October 2010, when they asked Beagley if she was still having trouble. They were preparing for a segment called "Mommy Confessions," the prosecutor said.
"(Beagley) said she was still angry," Franklin told the jurors.
The producers asked for video footage of Beagley's disciplinary methods. "That led to the making of this videotape," Franklin said.
Detectives would later apply for a search warrant and seize a camera and computer from the Beagley residence, Franklin said.
"You will see some of the videos Jessica Beagley made, including the one that was clipped up, put on 'Dr. Phil' and prompted the calls to (Anchorage police)," Franklin told the jury.
Franklin described one clip, in which the boy is seen screaming and crying as Beagley puts him in a cold shower and yells at him.
"He's forced into the shower, here in Alaska, with the water tap turned all the way to cold," Franklin said. The jury would hear testimony about the water temperature from a water utility employee, the prosecutor said.
Franklin said she was confident the jurors would find Beagley guilty of child abuse.
Beagley's lawyer, William Ingaldson, delivered his opening statement next.
"This case is not about whether Jessica Beagley used a punishment that you or I would use," Ingaldson said. "It's about Jessica Beagley being charged with criminal child abuse."
For the punishment to constitute a crime, prosecutors would have to prove it was done cruelly, Ingaldson said. It would have to be gratuitous and with intent to inflict pain, among other criteria, he told the jury .
None of those criteria fit the case, and Beagley should therefore be found not guilty, Ingaldson said.
The Beagleys knew about the challenges they'd face by adopting, Ingaldson said. But behavioral issues with the boy in the video proved to be far more difficult than they expected, he said.
The boy has Reactive Attachment Disorder, Ingaldson said. He'd acted out despite the parents' repeated attempts at curbing his bad behavior, Ingaldson said.
"She wanted to be and still wants to be a good mom," Ingaldson said. "You'll hear that a lot of people who get kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder want to give them back. That's not the Beagleys."
Ingaldson said the boy would mess his pants on purpose, urinate on things around the house, and smear snot on the walls.
When Jessica Beagley was contacted by the "Dr. Phil" show, the producers said they needed video of her punishing the kids, Ingaldson said.
"Jessica's response was, 'I'm not going to punish my kids just to get on the show,' " Ingaldson said.
Ingaldson said the producers indicated they didn't want her to punish them just for the show, but that Beagley might keep a video camera handy in case she needed to punish one of the children.
"She didn't know what to do with the kids," Ingaldson said. "She was trying to get help."
"She's a loving, caring mother, and she had a child with behavioral problems that she was trying to address."
Video footage, along with audio of the boy screaming as he's forced to stand in a cold shower, was shown to the jury later Wednesday as evidence presentation began.
The video, made in October 2010, shows Beagley asking the boy what happens when he lies.
"I get hot sauce," the crying boy replies.
The video shows Beagley putting the hot sauce in the boy's mouth and telling him not to spit it out. When he admits to lying, she allows him to spit out the hot sauce.
She then explains to the child that he is going to get in a cold shower for lying about misbehavior at school: wriggling in his seat and sword-fighting with pencils.
The video did not show the child in the shower, but the boy's screams can be heard.
"Listen to your teacher," she says. "You are to do what you are told."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.