'A very inappropriate way': Whose case did defense expert help in 'boy in the box' trial?

‘A very inappropriate way’: Whose case did defense expert help in ‘boy in the box’ trial?

(As originally published with additional photos and a video, Tue, October 10th 2023, 7:55 PM EDT; reporter’s first article here)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (WPEC) — It’s the defense’s turn in the “boy in the box” trial and the expert witness hired to keep Timothy Ferriter from child abuse and false imprisonment convictions may have helped the prosecution.

Ferriter and his wife, Tracy, who will be tried separately, forced their adopted son to live in a locked 8×8-foot enclosure in the family garage with a bucket as a bathroom. He stayed there when he wasn’t in school or doing household chores with no control of the lights. Last week, the prosecution played hours of video taken on a camera that the parents had installed in the ceiling.

The defense tried to argue the “box” was a desperate attempt to control the boy’s dangerous behavior.

Tuesday, clinical and forensic psychologist Dr. Sheila Rapa took the stand for the defense and was expected to explain why the Ferriters might have confined the boy, who was 14 at the time.

Instead, she testified they took the wrong approach when questioned.

Do you have an opinion to whether the Ferriter’s actions were therapeutically correct?

Yes.

What’s that opinion?

I think the Ferriters’ actions were against anything we would ever tell someone to do therapeutically,” the doctor said.

Rapa was not allowed to interview the victim, but she did review documents from doctors who had tried to treat the boy, whose name has not been released to protect his identity.

There is a long paper trail. That includes notes from a therapist who believed the boy was dealing with a condition called Reactive Attachment Disorder, or RAD.

Rapa explained the condition, saying a common feature is the inability to form an emotional bond with adoptive parents, due to post-traumatic stress. A child suffering from RAD will throw violent tantrums and sometimes lash out in anti-social ways.

”I don’t believe they were malicious as so far as they were deliberately trying to abuse and hurt their child,” the doctor said. “I think they were responding to behaviors that they were very concerned about, and they were trying. It’s almost they went into a, ‘Let’s contain and monitor and make sure nothing’s going to happen.’”

During cross-examination, the prosecution ran with the expert’s doubts about the parents’ actions, asking questions that resulted in the doctor repeating over and over, that the choice to confine the boy was inappropriate.

“They were trying to contain and control it in a very inappropriate way,” Rapa said.

She further testified confinement can worsen the symptoms of RAD.

You also noted that there was some difficulty in impulse control,” a prosecutor wanted to know, “but confinement is never an appropriate treatment for those difficulties either, is it?”

That’s correct,” Rapa responded.

The state is not claiming the Ferriters’ son wasn’t troubled or difficult to control — the victim even admitted that on the stand — but prosecutors say what the parents did in response was so over the top that it broke the law.

Wednesday, Ferriter may take the stand in his own defense if his lawyer feels explaining what he did in his own words would make him appear sympathetic. The jury has the morning off and is scheduled to return at 1 p.m.

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