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Melvina couple sentenced to 4 years in prison for keeping kids in makeshift cages
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Melvina couple sentenced to 4 years in prison for keeping kids in makeshift cages

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Headrick home

Police searched the Headrick residence on Central Avenue in Melvina in August 2018 after a babysitter's mom tipped authorities about child abuse allegations.

SPARTA — Travis and Amy Headrick treated their adopted children more like livestock than human beings, Monroe County District Attorney Kevin Chroninger said Friday during a sentencing hearing for the couple.

“There is no sentence that will make this all OK,” Chroninger said, arguing that the Headricks’ actions caused significant trauma on the lives of five children that may cause permanent problems.

Travis Headrick mug

Travis Headrick

The Headricks, who pleaded guilty Feb. 14 to two counts of child neglect and false imprisonment, will each spend four years in prison and seven years on extended supervision after they were sentenced Friday by Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Todd Ziegler. The maximum sentence possible was six years each for false imprisonment and one child neglect charge and three and one half for the other child neglect charge.

Amy Headrick, 41, and Travis Headrick, 49, admitted to neglecting two boys and locking one of them in a horse trough as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Amy Headrick mug

Amy Headrick

Ziegler described their choice to put the young boy in the trough as “despicable” and “extremely disturbing,” disputing that the picture painted the Headricks’ character witnesses, who said they were good people who made a mistake, was the reality of the situation.

“I’m going to say — and I think everyone knows this: Good people don’t do this,” Ziegler said. “Good people don’t engage in this type of behavior. This is not just one split-second decision, where something happens and you react. This is something that was going on over some time.”

The children who were kept in makeshift cages by the couple said Friday in court that life with their adoptive parents started out great.

“What I don’t get is what changed, when they started just being mean to us,” said the youngest child, who was locked in a horse trough with a piece of wire fencing over the top.

The children described feeling like they were untrustworthy and “bad kids” without understanding why.

“I feel like my freedom and my childhood were taken from me,” said the oldest boy.

He said that every day he lived with the Headricks, he lived in fear, saying loving parents would not hold their kids’ head under water to punish them, beat them or lock them in cages.

“I wish you guys would have thought through what you were doing to us. I just want to tell you that I forgive you,” said the oldest boy. “You guys knew what you were doing was wrong, because you kept it a secret.”

The Headricks’ oldest child begged the judge to grant the couple probation, saying her parents were good people who loved all of their children, including the adopted boys.

“There wasn’t a lack of love, there wasn’t a lack of food, there wasn’t a lack of anything like that,” she argued, adding that sending her parents to prison would be punishing her for no reason.

“They know they’ve made mistakes. They’re remorseful. Trust me, they cry all the time,” she said. “They know what they did was wrong and it’s changed them for the better.”

People who spoke on behalf of the Headricks also noted that the children had behavioral problems that made keeping them safe a challenge.

The attorneys for the Headricks, Jay Englund and John Matousek, said the couple wasn’t making excuses for their choices, but that ultimately they took the boys in out of a desire to do good and take care of them.

“They wanted to do the right thing, but they were way wrong. I don’t think any of their behavior was meant out of spite, out of anger at those children. It was as a result of misplaced logic,” Matousek said.

Chroninger disputed all implications that the children’s behavior was at all relevant to the Headricks’ choices.

“When we hear statements that there were behavior issues that’s essentially blaming children for acting like children. … Children who act up, even if they did act up, do not deserve to be abused,” Chroninger said. “Children who act up don’t deserve to be locked in a makeshift cage.”

When given the chance to address the courtroom, both Travis and Amy Headrick apologized to the boys.

“I’m sorry that I let you down,” said Amy Headrick, sobbing.

Ziegler acknowledged that there were mitigating factors, including the couple’s dedication to volunteering, work history and lack of a criminal history, but said the seriousness of the offense warranted prison time.

“This can’t happen without punishment,” Ziegler said.

He also took a moment to address all of the couple’s children, praising them for their resiliency and noting that they have been placed in different homes where they will be taken care of.

“They are loved and cared for and that gives them a great chance of being successful, but that doesn’t change everything that’s happened to them and the consequences that result from that,” he said.


Jourdan Vian can be reached at jvian@lacrossetribune.com or follow her on Twitter at @Jourdan_LCT.

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