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Courtesy Allen County Sheriff's Department
Marquisha Whitten

Mother to serve 4 years in frostbite neglect case

FORT WAYNE -- That first night he found himself in a burn unit bed at St. Joseph's Hospital.

Even the heavy medication they pumped into him couldn't quell the immense amount of pain in his hands and feet.

The 5-year-old boy had fallen into a snowbank in the middle of one of the harshest nights of one of Fort Wayne's harshest winters.

Temperatures reached down to 12 degrees below zero Jan. 9, with the wind chill reported at close to 30 degrees below zero.

The boy suffered frostbite to his hands and feet.

Days later, the skin from his hands and feet began to peel off and fall away. Then he lost his nails.

His pinky became infected and swelled to what is still, months later, an abnormal size. His skin on his hands and feet are no longer his natural color.

He is now terrified of snow.

Back on that January night, while the boy cried and screamed for his mother to come help, she was heard yelling back at him to get up himself.

Now she's going to prison.

On Thursday, an Allen Superior Court judge ordered 26-year-old Marquisha Whitten to serve four years in prison for neglecting her son.

"He's a beautiful boy, ma'am, and you don't deserve him," Judge Fran Gull told Whitten during her sentencing hearing.

"You don't deserve him."

Whitten, who had a 0.29 percent blood-alcohol level the night her son was found in the snow, read a statement apologizing for what she called a "mistake" during the hearing.

Allen Superior Court documents lay out what investigators believe led to her son's injuries. Whitten had been drinking at an undisclosed home beginning about 6:30 p.m. that day.

She and her son then began walking home to the Eden Green Apartments complex in the 1300 block of Greene Street about 11:15 p.m.

Somewhere along the way, Whitten lost her keys, according to the court documents, and began looking around outside for them.

While this happened, her son fell down and could not get back up because of the depth of the snow.

He was in the snow for about 10 minutes, according to court documents.

A woman who was expecting Whitten and her son began looking for them when they did not show up at the apartment and found them outside.

The boy was taken inside and found to have frostbite.

Officials immediately placed the boy in the care of a couple who are experienced in taking care of foster children.

They both testified Thursday that the first night they took the boy home from the hospital, he told them he did not want to go back to Whitten.

"That was the first time I've ever had that happen with a child in our foster care," said Chad Forth, one of the foster parents.

The couple went on to testify how the boy wore gloves outside all the time and was now hysterically fearful of snow at times.

"He was genuinely afraid he'd fall in the snow and become trapped," Forth said.

While Whitten told Gull she hoped to someday have a second chance with her son, the judge showed little sympathy with Whitten's characterization of her actions as a mistake.

"You placed your son in a deadly situation," Gull said.

"It's no thanks to you (he's alive), it's thanks to these people who cared for him, who cried with him and bandaged him up," she continued, referring to the foster parents.

Gull sentenced Whitten to six years in prison but suspended two of those years and ordered her to serve two years probation after her release.

Whitten, who cried throughout much of the hearing, remained silent while being escorted from the courtroom.