They gathered Saturday to protest what they believe is too light a sentence for a woman once hired to protect children – but in the end admitted to shocking abuse of a boy under her care.
Wanda Sue Larson was sentenced last week to a maximum 17 months in jail in connection with an abuse case that got worldwide attention after authorities found an 11-year-old boy – shivering and malnourished – handcuffed to Larson’s porch with a dead chicken wrapped around his neck in November 2013.
At the time, she was a child protective services supervisor for Union County’s social services division.
Under the plea deal, Larson will likely be free this week – having already spent 161/2 months in jail since her arrest.
Her live-in boyfriend, Dorian Harper, also pleaded guilty to abuse and was sentenced to up to 101/2 years in prison. Harper admitted to committing most of the abuse, including twisting the boy’s finger with a pair of pliers and burning his face with electrical wire.
Yet it was Larson’s plea deal that brought about 100 protesters to the Union County Courthouse plaza in downtown Monroe, many carrying signs that included “Union County Lax on Child Abuse” and this one held by 6-year-old Brendon Boyle: “My Life Matters.”
“Wanda Sue Larson was supposed to be a representative for children in child abuse cases and she was living a life of being a child abuser,” said Brendon’s mother, Matthews resident Lea Boyle. “Her sentence didn’t match the crime. How many cases were overlooked under her supervision? How many kids slipped through the cracks under her care?”
Union County District Attorney Trey Robison has said he agreed to the plea bargaining to spare the children under Larson’s care from having to testify. He said their testimony would have been critical in a trial.
Larson was guardian to the boy, who turns 13 in May, and had adopted four other children living in the home at the time of her arrest.
Robison said Larson also had cooperated with authorities, agreed to testified against Harper and had no prior offenses.
That reasoning didn’t placate many of the protesters, including protest organizer Jeff Gerber, founder of The Justice For All Coalition which advocates for laws protecting children.
“I am furious that the D.A. used an excuse that he did not want the case to go to trial so the children weren’t subjected to taking the stand,” Gerber said. “Taking the stand could have provided a sense of comfort and peace – and a sense of justice – for these children.
“That boy will be living his life in fear knowing that justice did not prevail.”
Gerber said Larson may have placed much of the blame on her boyfriend, but “she saw what was happening and didn’t report it, or put a stop to it.”
Heather Thompson of Monroe agreed. “He (the boy) gets a life sentence. She gets 17 months – or time served. That ludicrous.”
The biological mother of the boy found on the porch, Maria Harris of Charlotte, was at the protest, sent, she said, by her son.
“He told me tell everyone that she (Larson) deserves more time,” Harris said. “She should be held at high standards because she was working to protect kids. If you don’t make an example of her, people will continue to do this kind of stuff.”