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Stepbrother accused of sexual assault in high-profile abuse case

Prosecutors have filed sexual assault charges against the stepbrother of a severely malnourished Wisconsin girl who says she was also abused by her parents. The case has made international headlines, which could compromise the 18-year-old man's ability to receive a fair trial.

The teenage girl's parents and stepbrother appeared in a Madison courtroom Thursday for a preliminary hearing. Prosecutors say the stepbrother first sexually assaulted the girl when she turned 10 years old, in December 2006, and again from February 2009 to February 2010. He faces felony charges of first-degree sexual assault of a child with great bodily harm, second-degree sexual assault of a child and child abuse.

Investigators say the girl, who weighed only 70 pounds when she was found, was forced to stay in the basement of her home with very little food and no bathroom. The girl told police her parents set up an alarm on the door, put bars on the basement windows and set up cameras in the kitchen pantry in case she tried to steal food. According to the Department of Children and Families, there had been 10 reports of suspected neglect, sexual and physical abuse since 2006.

The girl said she'd tried to run away before but her parents had always found her. She managed to escape Feb. 6 and was found by a passing motorist, who picked her up and alerted authorities.

According to a criminal complaint, the girl's stepbrother tried unsuccessfully to have intercourse with her once and forced her to perform oral sex on him more than 10 times. The girl said she told her father and stepmother about his actions, but they accused her of lying. After she told a school counselor, a Dane County child protective services worker and a detective met with her at the school, but she refused to tell them anything. When the county worker met with her parents, they refused to allow her or the police to talk to the stepbrother or sign any releases allowing them to continue investigating him.

The girl's stepmother, whom the girl says was responsible for most of the abuse, and her father will face their own charges soon. Regardless of whether he's guilty, the stepbrother, with so much publicity surrounding the case, will need an attorney with focused experience in defending sex crimes to help ensure he gets a fair trial.

Source: Fox News, "Stepbrother charged with sexual abuse of Wisconsin teen," The Associated Press, Feb. 16, 2012

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