Children take the stand in Lake Geneva abuse trial

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Andrea Anderson | July 21, 2015

ELKHORN -- A biological son of a Lake Geneva couple accused of abusing their adopted children claims one of the adopted sons was in a rage and said he was going to kill their mother.

In testimony Tuesday, one of the three biological sons said he ran from his upstairs bedroom to the hallway downstairs on the morning of Feb. 4, 2011, to find the now 20-year-old adopted son kicking and punching his mother, Kathleen O'Brien, while saying he would kill her.

“I saw (my brother) being very aggressive and violent and my mother trying to defend herself,” he told the jury.

Kathleen and Martin O'Brien were charged in May 2012 with a combined 23 felony and misdemeanor charges of abusing their six adopted children. Some of the charges have been dismissed.

Kathleen pleaded not guilty in December to four felony counts of party to physical abuse of a child and misdemeanor party to disorderly conduct.

Martin pleaded not guilty to six felony counts of party to physical abuse of a child.

In the February incident Kathleen is charged in, she told the 20-year-old to calm down, there was no need to be violent, and that if he didn't stop she would have to use the pepper spray, the biological son testified.

The argument then came to a pause until the adopted child grabbed a bag along the mother's waist and Kathleen sprayed the boy, the son said.

The defense previously stated Kathleen purchased the pepper spray because she feared the adopted son would hurt her.

The six adopted children, who are from Russia and Guatemala, were emotionally and physically abused for years, according to prosecutor Diane Donohoo.

In opening statements last week, Donohoo said the O'Briens made the children stand naked in front of the four biological children who laughed at them, locked the adopted children in a bedroom for extended periods and did not feed the six for as many as three days.

Other accusations outlined in court and in the criminal complaints include kneeing a now 17-year-old in the genitals, making the children eat frozen bread and making a then 10-year-old girl stand outside barefoot in the winter for so long her feet swelled.

Two biological sons said Tuesday they never saw their parents intentionally harm any child and never saw any evidence of intentional abuse.

Three of the adopted children mentioned in the remaining charges have testified during the trial. Tuesday was day eight of the trial scheduled to end Friday, July 31.

The attorneys for Kathleen and Martin O'Brien, Kathleen Quinn and Kathleen Stilling, respectively, argue the O'Briens actions are being twisted against them. They said the accusations stem from the adopted children having difficulty adjusting to the couple's household routine and their inability to leave their difficult lives in Russia and Guatemala in the past.

The prosecution claims the adopted children were forced to do chores the biological kids did not have to. One of the sons testified Tuesday that each child was part of the same chore rotation.

The defense also argues the 20-year-old adopted son had a history of threatening and scaring the other adopted children. They say it was this child who was a ringleader who manipulated the others into thinking they were being treated differently than the biological children.

The alleged events were punishment for taking food and not following directions or finishing chores, Donohoo and the 17-year-old adopted children said during the trial.

The O'Briens will be back in court 8:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Walworth County Judicial Center.

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