Jul 13, 2015 6:43 PM

Child starvation trial wraps up in Dover as Peggy Starr takes stand one last time


DOVER - It was another emotional day for Peggy Starr Monday as she took the witness stand in her own defense at Strafford County Superior Court.

Starr, 57, of Nottingham, is accused of helping to starve a young boy from 2008 to 2010. When the state took him away from Christina Thomas - the child's guardian and Starr's daughter - he weighed just 23 pounds. At 6 years old.

Teary-eyed and frustrated, Starr explained that she was trying to help the boy when she took away carrots to modify his behavior. She also sent a note to his school, asking officials to withhold lunches, because he ate everything packed for him on the bus ride there.

"He was always vomiting. He couldn't seem to hold anything down, so it was a matter of trying to figure out why," Starr said.

Deputy County Attorney Alysia Cassotis quickly pointed out that Starr and Thomas had been instructed by doctors at Dartmouth-Hitchcock to allow the boy to eat what he wanted, when he wanted, because he was so underweight.

Cassotis also said during her closing arguments that nobody at school, or on the bus, observed the child throwing up after eating, even though it was reported to doctors he vomited between 15 and 20 times a day.

Cassotis told Judge Steven Houran that the child and his mother were abused while living with Thomas. The boy was allegedly put in a dog kennel and chained to a bunk bed.

Cassotis reminded the judge of the testimony he has heard during the trial, including from Jean Petrie of Elliot, Maine, who was working as a medical assistant in October of 2009, when she witnessed Starr mistreat the boy. Starr slapped him multiple times in the bathroom of a doctor's office, Petrie said.

When Starr and the child left the building, there was a piece of feces on the bathroom floor. Petrie called the Division for Children, Youth and Families.

Cassotis said when the boy was removed from the home, all of the foods Thomas and Starr said he had problems with did not cause him to throw up. As a matter of fact, the child had no problem gaining 20 pounds and growing five and a half inches in a matter of months.

"I think the testimony that was provided about the facts in this case are egregious and most people probably, hopefully, will be appalled by it," Cassotis told NH1 News.

Starr's attorney, public defender David Betancourt, argued during his closing arguments that Starr had the best of intentions and loved the child as a grandson.

Betancourt blamed Thomas for the child's abuse, saying she fooled Starr into believing she was taking proper care of him when she restricted his diet.

"This is someone who believes they are doing what they have to do to help a child," Betancourt said, adding that Starr's own sister suffers from pancreatitis, and has a hard time digesting food.

Betancourt later explained that Starr did not knowingly fail to provide proper nutrition to the boy.

"Knowing is defined as being aware that a specific behavior will result in a specific outcome, so that's what our defense was, that it was a lack of intent," Betancourt told NH1.

Judge Steven Houran, who presided over the bench trial, will now have to decide Starr's fate. If he finds she knowingly helped to starve the child, she could be convicted of first-degree assault, sentenced to 10 to 30 years in prison and face a $4,000 fine.

Houran, who has other obligations on Tuesday and Wednesday, is expected to deliberate on the case later this week and render a decision in open court.

Follow Kimberley Haas on Twitter @KHaasNH1.


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