The Mankato Free Press
---- — ST. PETER — A sentencing hearing for a rural North Mankato couple who pleaded guilty to abusing and neglecting their malnourished child ended with Mona Hauer being led away to jail and her husband, Russell, sobbing outside a St. Peter courtroom.
Mona Hauer, 45, received 60 days in jail on Tuesday with the term to begin immediately. Russell Hauer, 45, received 30 days in jail, a sentence that will start after his wife is released.
Both are also required to serve 30 days of Sentence to Service and Russell Hauer will be required to serve another 15 days on electronic home monitoring. With good behavior in jail, both of their sentences could each be reduced to two-thirds of the total time.
Nicollet County District Court Judge Allison Krehbiel set aside arguments by the Hauers' attorney, Christopher Rosengren, that the three children still living with the couple would be harmed if their parents were sent to jail. He asked that they be placed on home monitoring. A request to allow Mona Hauer to have work release from jail so she could homeschool the children also was denied.
Krehbiel said she reviewed dozens of letters written both on behalf of the Hauers and the now 9-year-old boy who has been permanently removed from their home. She said arriving at a fair sentence wasn't easy because the case was emotionally charged and guidelines had been set through a plea agreement.
Mona Hauer pleaded guilty in October to a felony-level charge accusing her of causing substantial harm to her child, who was 8 years old when she brought him to a hospital, as a result of her neglect. Russell Hauer pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor charge accusing him of neglect that could have resulted in substantial harm.
The Alford plea allowed the Hauers to maintain their innocence but admit enough evidence existed for a jury to find them guilty of that charge and several others filed against them nearly a year ago. Nicollet County Attorney Michelle Zehnder Fischer said she accepted the Alford plea and a 60-day cap on jail time to avoid putting the boy through the trauma of testifying at two trials, one for each of his former adoptive parents.
The charges were filed last November after investigators learned the boy, one of the Hauers' four children, had been denied food and possibly physically abused. The Hauers have said the boy had problems that led to an eating disorder when he was originally placed in their home as a foster child. The boy told investigators he wasn't allowed to eat, was spanked frequently with a broom and a board, and was left outside for long periods of time.
The boy was taken to a hospital by Mona Hauer a year ago after he ate a frozen treat he had taken from a freezer without permission. She thought it was blood, so she brought the boy to the hospital in Mankato. He was transferred to Rochester after doctors realized he was so malnourished his body could not properly digest food.
Victim impact statements read by the boy's current foster mother, Robin Burow, described how he has changed since he was taken out of the Hauers' home just north of North Mankato on Highway 169. A statement the boy prepared himself, with the help of a computer program that asked specific questions, also was read by Burow.
Burow's husband, Loren, is Mona Hauer's brother. Robin Burow said the boy and his two siblings, who are still living with the Hauers, were originally brought to them for foster care when they were taken from their birth mother's home. The Burows were happy when they found out the Hauers would be adopting the children and keeping them in the family. That changed about five years ago when Mona Hauer cut off ties with the Burows. They were shocked to see the boy's condition when he was returned to their care during the investigation of the Hauers.
"Those first transitional weeks were pretty rough for everyone," Robin Burow said. "As (the boy) got more comfortable, he shared more and more what life was like with the Hauers. The isolation, corporal punishment and their 'fix-it' plan solutions were just the opposite of what a child of trauma responds positively to.
"Their rigid parenting was like rubbing salt in an open wound, causing pain and adding to his trauma history."
The boy put his statement into story form. The first half of his story talked about a child who was starved, spanked and endured a month of treatment in the hospital. After making it clear the story was really about him, the second half talked about a boy who is "awesome," loves to ride his bike and looks forward to going to school.
It was the comparison of two photographs that "tipped the scales" and made it clear the Hauers deserved jail time, Krehbiel said. One photo was of the boy after he had been taken to the hospital. The other was a recent photo from the Burows, who said his weight has doubled and he has grown nearly 8 inches during the past year. The boy had only gained 5 pounds during the five years he was under the care of the Hauers.
"It's very difficult for the court to grasp how anyone couldn't realize something was amiss when a child only gains 5 pounds in five years," Krehbiel said. "There is no excuse for that and the punishment fits."
After a civil trial earlier this year, the Hauers lost their parental rights over the boy, but they have been allowed to keep the other three children.